In England and Wales, if the parents of a child are married to each other at the time of the birth, or if they have jointly adopted a child, then they both have parental responsibility. Parents do not lose parental responsibility if they divorce, and this applies to both the resident and the non-resident parent.
This is not automatically the case for unmarried parents. According to current law, a mother always has parental responsibility for her child. A father, however, has this responsibility only if he is married to the mother when the child is born or has acquired legal responsibility for his child through one of these three routes:
- (from 1 December 2003) by jointly registering the birth of the child with the mother
- by a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
- by a parental responsibility order, made by a court
Living with the mother, even for a long time, does not give a father parental responsibility and if the parents are not married, parental responsibility does not always pass to the natural father if the mother dies. The father will always have a legal duty to financially support their child, whether they have parental responsibility or not.
It is important for fathers to have parental responsibility, and all too often we see mothers who oppose the rights of fathers, even where these fathers have provided regular practical, emotional and financial support to their children. It is wrong that many fathers are penalisedsimply because their children were born before December 2003.