A mother will always automatically have parental responsibility for their child. Parental responsibility refers to the bundle of rights and obligations that a parent has towards their child under the law. It is the legal concept of parental responsibility that allows a parent to make decisions on behalf of the child on matters such as their medical care, finances, schooling, and religion.
Parental responsibility automatically accrues to a father who is married to the mother. However, this is the only way that parental responsibility accrues automatically to the father. The other most obvious way for parental responsibility to accrue to a father is by their name being placed on the child’s birth certificate. If neither of these situations exist, the father will not have parental responsibility in the eyes of law, whether or not they are in fact the natural father of the child.
There are practical reasons for this law. It would be dangerous for the law to readily assume that a cohabiting couple were, necessarily, the legal parents of a child born by the mother. Consequently, it is necessary for the cohabiting couple to take steps to ensure that the father’s parentage and parental responsibility is recognised.
It is generally recommended to do this immediately on the birth of the child, rather than later in time. This means that it will not become a contested issue if the relationship between the cohabiting couple breaks down in the future. It can be distressing for many fathers to learn that they do not have parental responsibility. Not having parental responsibility can mean that the father is, by way of the mother’s refusal to allow him, unable to make decisions regarding the child’s welfare.
Other ways in which a cohabiting couple can recognise the parental responsibility of the father is by entering into a parental responsibility agreement. Alternatively, if the couple is unable to reach such an agreement, the court can make a parental responsibility order. You should seek legal advice from a family solicitor about the implications of such an agreement or order.