In terms of the rights of the parent, they are encompassed by parental responsibility and set out in law as the “responsibility to act in the best interests of the child regarding their health, general wellbeing, welfare, and education up to the age of 18.”
A birth mother automatically obtains parental responsibility. A father will have parental responsibility if he is named on the child’s birth certificate, or it is added later with the mother’s consent. In respect of unmarried couples, a father will have parental responsibility providing they are present when the child’s birth is registered, and their name is included on the birth certificate.
Regarding female same sex couples, the person who gives birth will automatically gain parental responsibility. If a female same sex couple is married or in a civil partnership, they will automatically obtain parental responsibility in the same way that a married father would. If they are not married or in a civil partnership, they can acquire parental responsibility by entering into an agreement with the mother or applying to the court for an order.
Male same sex couples who are married or in a civil partnership and have used surrogacy to conceive a child should obtain consent from the surrogate before making an application for a parental order. An alternative is to apply to court for an adoption order.
What is the legal position of the absent parent?
Legally, it doesn’t really matter how long the parent has been absent from the life of their child, parental responsibility once bestowed is very rarely lost. The caveat to that is in cases of absence without trace for a period of at least six years. Here, the absent parent may be presumed to have died, although legal declarations will need to have been obtained by relevant parties.
Besides this, only holders of parental responsibility can object to another parent exercising their rights. And in cases of unresolved disputes, the court must deal with these issues by making specific issue or child arrangement orders, setting out how the absent parent can exercise their rights and have a say in the child’s upbringing.
Can an absent parent lose parental responsibility?
The law does not set out a specific time that a parent automatically loses their parental rights. Regardless of the amount of time they spend with their child, which includes no contact at all, a parent who has parental responsibility will keep it unless the court makes an order to the contrary, which, as already stated, is rare.
The court treats each case on its own merits, and so a prolonged period of absence from a child’s life may be taken into account, but this is just one of many factors it must consider when making an order. The court will also consider the reasons for the absence and if the absent parent has made any effort over the years to maintain a relationship with the child. In reality, if a parent is absent from a child’s life for a significant period of time, a cautious approach will usually be taken.
If you are facing a dispute over your parental rights or if you have concerns regarding absence from your child’s life and wish to reconnect, it is important to obtain specialist legal advice to discuss your options.
If I can’t see my children, do I still have to pay child maintenance?
Parental rights and responsibilities are completely separate from the duty to pay child maintenance, which continues regardless of a parent’s involvement in the child’s life.
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