You might think that father's parental rights are reasonably straight-forward. Certainly the media would have us believe that fathers are being increasingly encouraged to take on responsibilities for their children's upbringing. But if a couple are not married the unmarried father may get a shock when it comes to paternity rights.
Men co-habiting with someone with whom they have children may get a nasty shock if there is a separation. Even though you both know that you are the children's biological father, you may have no legal rights whatsoever following a separation.
The law is complicated on this matter. Fathers with children born (or whose birth is registered) after 1 December 2003 and whose name appears on the birth certificate have parental rights and responsibilities. But fathers who fall outside this criteria may face a nasty shock.
You will not have the right to have contact with the children, to see them regularly, to have them to stay with you, to take them on holiday and will not be legally entitled to do the things you once took for granted such as going to school parent's evenings, consenting to medical treatment or even signing the forms to allow your 17 year-old to join the Army.
Your former partner may allow you to see the children, but you will not actually have the legal right to do so, and certainly not the legal right to do any of the other things mentioned.
There are certain ways by which you can acquire what the law now calls 'parental responsibility through an agreement. In summary, a Parental Responsibility Agreement is required for all unmarried fathers where the child's birth was registered before 1 December 2003: in cases where an unmarried father of a child whose birth is registered on or after 1 December 2003 is not on the birth certificate for some reason: where a heterosexual couple marry and the other party already has a child: in all Civil Partnerships where either party already has a child, or gives birth after the couple become civil partners.
Woolley & Co can advise and guide you through the processes involved. Once you have 'parental responsibility' you will have exactly the same rights as any other parent.
If you are concerned about your rights as a parent contact us for advice from one of our specialist family lawyers.
If you are living together with no legal agreement you are encouraged to consider a prenuptial or living together agreement.