Family Law regarding children varies massively depending on the parent's relationship. When parents separate, their involvement with their children could be hugely different depending on whether they were married or not. Parents who were married will both usually have significant contact with a child, whereas the Father's rights are much diminished if they were not. The law treats married and unmarried Father's very differently.
When a married couple with children divorce, they are both legally entitled to full involvement in their child's life and in decisions affecting their upbringing. The absent parent has an automatic right to know where their child is living and to see them on a regular basis. He/she will have a legal right to certain information such as school and medical reports. These factors are designed to benefit the child, meaning they have the advantages of being with both parents.
If separated parents were not married, then the Mother has automatic parental responsibility. This means that the Father's rights are not the same as married Father's. He cannot prevent his child from taking their Mother's surname, even if he/she previously had his surname. The Father is also unable to take his child abroad on holiday, and has no say in the child's religion or school. If fact he could have no say in the child's life what so ever. He doesn't even have an automatic right to look after his child if the child's Mother dies. Unmarried Father's are treated similarly to step-father's even though the are the biological Father.
There are of course exceptions to these general rules. The law regarding unmarried Father's has changed with regards to children born since 1st December 2003. If a Father's name appears on the birth certificate and his child was born after this date he has the same legal rights as a previously married Father. However the law for children born prior to this date remains the same.
There are exceptional circumstances where divorced Father's are not given their normal rights. These will be cases where it is considered in the child's best interests that their Father does not have such as active involvement, or no involvement as all. Meanwhile there are ways in which unmarried Father's can request more involvement. The agreement of the child's Mother is the most obvious, and most Mother's are happy for the Father to have an active role. However, if the Mother does not agree it can be very difficult for the Father. They might then have to resort to getting a court order to force the Mother to allow access.
Many are surprised when they hear of the lack of rights that unmarried Father's have. The good news for Father's who will be in this position in the future is that the law has changed since December 2003. However, the difficulties to those Father's with children born previously to this are still the same as they always have been. The reason stated for both parents being involved in their child's future if they were previously married is that it is for the good of the child. Surely then, the same should apply to unmarried Father'.
Andrew Marshall ©