Absent Father's Rights

October 28, 2021

While a birth mother always has parental responsibility, a father is not automatically entitled to the same rights unless he was married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth. This article explains everything you need to know about parental responsibility and how it works in practice.

Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility is legally defined as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.” In other words, parental responsibility refers to all the obligations and rights a parent has for a child. 

Under the Children’s Act 1989 Section 3(1), the parents whose name is on the birth certificate have parental responsibility. Parental responsibility lasts until the child is 18 years old.

Practically what does that mean?

A person with parental responsibility has a say in all major parenting decisions regarding the child’s education, health, and wellbeing, including:

  • Determining the child’s education
  • Deciding what name a child will have, registering, or changing the child’s name
  • Consenting to health care and medical treatment, as well as accessing the child’s medical records
  • Giving permission for the child to spend extended time in another country or to move abroad
  • Making decisions about how the child should be disciplined
  • Representing the child in legal proceedings
  • Deciding who should be appointed as the child’s legal guardian
  • Making decisions regarding the religious upbringing of the child
  • Managing the child’s property, for example, an inheritance or a personal injury award.

A person without parental responsibility doesn’t have the authority to influence major decisions regarding the child’s life. 

Day-to-day parenting decisions

Any day-to-day decisions can be taken by the parent with whom the child lives (the resident parent). For any major decisions, such as where the child goes to school, everyone who has parental responsibility must consent.

What rights are not granted through parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility doesn’t grant the following rights: 

  • Automatic access rights to the child, in particular when one parent has sole custody of the child, and
  • The right to automatically know where the child is living.

Read on to find out who can have parental responsibility. 

Who Has Parental Responsibility?

The birth mother always has parental responsibility.

In addition, the biological father who is married to or in a civil partnership with the mother at the time of the child’s birth automatically has parental responsibility. The father will not lose his parental responsibility after divorce or civil partnership dissolution.

The following individuals can also have parental responsibility for a child:

  • Adoptive parents. If the parents jointly adopted a child, both have parental responsibility.
  • The unmarried father of a child who was born after 1 December 2003 if the father is named on the child’s birth certificate.
  • The father who has signed a parental responsibility agreement with the child’s mother.
  • The father who has been given a parental responsibility order by the court.
  • Step-parents of a child with a parental responsibility agreement or court order.
  • The person looking after a child under a residence order.
  • Individuals who become parents via a surrogacy arrangement and who have obtained a parental order.

It is possible for more than two people to have parental responsibility for the same child.

Absent father’s rights

A father who has been absent from his child’s life for a longer period of time will nevertheless retain parental responsibility together with all the rights and duties that it entails. 

Who doesn't have parental responsibility?

A father who is not married to or in a civil partnership with the child’s mother and whose name is not on the child’s birth certificate doesn’t automatically have parental responsibility. However, he is still required to provide financial support for the child. A father without parental responsibility also has the right to:

  • Apply to the court for certain court orders in respect to the child, and
  • Have reasonable contact with the child who is in local authority care.

Other individuals who don’t automatically have parental responsibility are:

  • Unmarried fathers who are registered on the birth certificate of the child born before 1 December 2003
  • Step-mothers and step-fathers
  • Grandparents. 

However, a person can apply for parental responsibility if they don’t automatically have it. Here’s how. 

How Does a Father Get Parental Responsibility?

A father who is not married to or in a civil partnership with the mother can obtain parental responsibility in several ways:

  • Marrying or entering into a civil partnership with the mother. In this case, the child’s birth needs to be formally re-registered.
  • Having the father’s name registered on the birth certificate if the child was born after 1 December 2003 and if his name is not already registered.
  • Signing a formal parental responsibility agreement with the mother. The agreement must be witnessed by a court official.
  • Applying to the court for a parental responsibility order if the mother doesn’t agree to the father having parental responsibility.
  • Obtaining a residence order (before 22 April 2014) or child arrangement order stating that the child lives with the father. 

Is it possible to transfer parental responsibility?

Although you can share parental responsibility with another person, you can’t transfer it to someone else. 

If needed, you can delegate the responsibility to a partner, childcarer, teacher, friend, or relative who will act as temporary caretaker for your child. Note that even if you opt for delegation, you remain liable for parental responsibility. 

There are different ways in which a father can gain parental responsibility, but is it also possible to lose it? Keep reading to find out. 

Can a Father Lose Parental Responsibility?

A father can’t lose parental responsibility for the child unless there is an order from the court to remove it. However, this happens very rarely. 

Parental responsibility is terminated in extreme cases to protect a child from serious emotional or physical harm. Furthermore, parental responsibility removal can be ordered only when it was acquired by an unmarried father through parental responsibility agreement or court order.

Can an absent father lose parental responsibility?

Being an absent or inconsistent father is not considered a sufficient condition to remove parental responsibility. An absent father will, therefore, retain the parental responsibility for the child. 

Child protection orders

Although the court will not normally remove a father’s parental responsibility, there are different orders that the judge can make to restrict the father’s involvement in the child’s life, for example: 

  • Child arrangements order, a court order that determines with whom the child will live 
  • Specific issue order, a court order that helps settle disputes about child arrangements after a divorce or separation
  • Prohibited steps order that prevents a parent from exercising some parts of parental responsibility, such as taking the child out of the country.

These orders can significantly limit the role a father can play in a child’s life if this is considered by the court to be in the child’s best interest. The court will always prefer to restrict parental responsibility than to remove it entirely.

Adoption and losing parental responsibility 

Both the mother and the father will lose parental responsibility if the child is adopted. The names of adoptive parents will replace the biological parents’ names on the adoption certificate.

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