Q. I separated from my partner two months ago, we were expecting our first child together. I am worried she will not let me see the child. What are my rights?
A. The father starts off with no rights or responsibilities other than a financial responsibility, towards a child born outside marriage, even if he is living with the mother.
The unmarried mother alone has parental responsibility for the child. This means that the mother has the legal responsibility to look after and maintain a child.
The mother will also have the exclusive right to make both long term and short term decisions, for example, about where a child should live or go to school.
This situation will apply unless:
*from 15 April 2002 the father gets parental responsibility by jointly registering the birth of the child with the child’s mother;
*the parents make a parental responsibility agreement. If such an agreement is made the mother and father will each have parental responsibility which they can exercise independently of each other. This agreement can only be ended by court order provided the court considers it to be in the best interests of the child;
*there is a parental responsibility order made by the court. The father can apply for this order which will give him equal responsibilities and rights with the mother for the child;
*the father has a residence order for the child. This will mean that the child will live with the father and the court must also make a parental responsibility order in the father’s favour. The mother continues to have parental responsibility for the child;
*there is a court order, agreement or child support assessment for maintenance, in which case the father will have a responsibility for making financial provision for the child
the father is made guardian of the child;
If the parents are in agreement, the father’s lack of legal rights is of little practical consequence. You can share the practical, but not the legal responsibilities with the mother.
You might wish to jointly register the child’s birth, to apply for a parental responsibility order or make a parental responsibility agreement as a positive step in determining his relationship with the child. It can be a statement of your commitment to equal responsibilities and rights with the mother of the child.
If subsequently you cannot agree about an issue relating to the child’s upbringing, either of you can go to court to obtain an order to resolve the issue. Both parents are entitled to apply for a residence, contact, specific issue or prohibited steps order. Whilst there is no order or agreement only the mother has parental responsibility for the child the father therefore has no automatic right to have contact with the child, but can ask the court to make a contact or residence order.
A contact order requires the person the child is living with to allow the child to visit, stay with or have some other form of contact with the person named in the order.
Anyone can be named on the order. Conditions can be placed on the contact arrangements, for example, where the contact must take place, the times and dates of contact
The court must ensure that the child’s welfare is paramount. The court will not make an order unless it is in the child’s best interests to do so
If a father subsequently marries the mother of his child, he automatically assumes parental responsibility as though you have been married to the mother when the child was born.
The child takes the mother’s surname until s/he is registered. At registration, the mother can give the child any forename and surname of her choice, including her own name or the father’s name, or a combination of both. She does not need the father’s permission to give the child his surname. She can also decide to give the child any other surname.
The father has no right to insist that the child has his name, but you may apply to the court for a specific issues order if you believe he should have a right to have the child named after him, eg if the surname has particular cultural or religious connotations.
Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice at www.citizensadvice.co.uk or for further information go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/nireland