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Updated on April 12, 2013


More than 1 in 3 babies are born to unmarried parents in the UK. The biological fathers of these children do not necessarily have any rights to see or make decisions about their lives.

Q: What rights do unmarried fathers have? A: It depends where you live as the laws differ from country to country. In the USA the laws are different in different states so it is best to check your individual states jurisdiction.

Legislation in the UK (England & Wales only)

The mother by default has parental responsibility for her child. Prior to 2003 an unmarried father had no legal parental rights whatsoever. If a child was born after December 2003 and the father’s name was on the birth certificate he had full parental rights. If he was not named as the father he had no legal rights. This meant that whilst his ex-partner may give him leave to have contact with his child; he did not actually have a legal right to do so. He would not be legally allowed to attend school events for parents, take the child away on holiday, out for the day, have him to stay for weekends or give parental consent for marriage or joining the armed forces. The mother could take the child out of the country without his permission and he would legally have no say in the matter. The only way he could obtain these rights was to marry the mother and apply for re-registration of the child together with her. The couple could also do this without marrying or he could simply apply for parental responsibility by completing a Parental Responsibility agreement form.


New Legislation

There has been a recent legislation change in January 2013 giving unmarried fathers full parental rights and the right to see their children in the event of a relationship break down. However; the issue of parental right is still not as clear cut as you may think. Full parental rights are only granted if the couple jointly register the birth of the child.

What does this mean?

This means that if you did not register the child jointly with the mother and your name does not appear on the birth certificate you still do not have any parental rights or responsibilities whatsoever.


Is there anything I can do?

Parental responsibility can be obtained in several ways.

The most obvious way is to marry the mother and re-register the child’s birth if you are the biological father.

You could also apply to re-register the child’s birth as an unmarried couple, by completing and taking to the register office an ‘Application for the re-registration of a child’s birth’ form - available via the website.

If both parents cannot be present; a ‘Statutory Declaration of acknowledgement of Parentage’ form must be completed and the declaration made in the presence of a Solicitor, Justice of the Peace, Magistrate or Commissioner for Oaths.

A Parental Responsibility Agreement can be made with the child’s mother. Again a form will need to be completed.


What are my parental responsibilities?

All parents, married or unmarried; have a moral responsibility to make sure that their child is financially maintained, regardless of parental responsibility

In addition, parental responsibility includes:

  • Consenting to medical treatment
  • Disciplining the child
  • Choosing the child’s name
  • Selecting a place of education
  • Caring for the child’s property
  • Having access to the child’s medical and education records

What if the mother does not agree to a PR Agreement?

  • The father can obtain a residence order
  • The father can apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility order where it will be signed and witnessed. He needs to show a number of things – His reason for applying is well-meaning, genuine and in the best interest of the child. There is a degree of commitment and attachment between the child and father. He would need to take a copy of the birth certificate and some form of identification. Two copies of the signed and witnessed form will need to be sent to the following address:

Principal Registry of the Family Division
First Avenue House
42-49 High Holborn

London WC1V 6NP

If I have PR does this mean I have the right to see my child if we split up?

The mother has full control over when and if an unmarried father can see his child. PR does not allow you to see the child if the mother does not wish this. You would have to apply to the court for a contact order.

Does PR end?

  1. Parental responsibility ends:
  2. When the child is 18 years of age
  3. When a court terminates it
  4. When a child between the ages of 16 & 18 marries
  5. When a residence order ends


Same Sex Couples

If the parents were civil partners at the time of the birth they will have joint responsibility for the child. If not, they can either become civil partners and re-register the birth or the second parent can apply for parental responsibility.

© Susan Bailey 2013 All Rights Reserved


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    • Sue Bailey profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Bailey 

      6 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

      In the UK the laws have just changed giving them more rights than previously but they have to be named on the birth certificate to get any rights at all. Thanks for the UP and share.

    • torrilynn profile image


      6 years ago

      thanks for this informative hub. I always thought that unmarried fathers had rights as long as they were taken to court and stripped of those rights. very interesting indeed. Voted up and shared.


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