Important notes for unmarried parents or parents not in a civil partnership
Who is responsible for children?
Married parents or parents in a civil partnership are both responsible in law for their children. They both have parental responsibility. A father who is not married or in a civil partnership with the mother does not have parental responsibility. Unmarried mothers have it automatically. A father who is not married or in a civil partnership with the mother can get parental responsibility simply by jointly registering the birth of the child with the mother or by making a parental responsibility agreement with the child's mother and registering it with the Office of Care and Protection at the High Court in Belfast or by getting a Court Order.
How do we jointly register the birth?
The two most common ways are:
The mother and father / second female parent together can ask the Registrar to record both their names on the birth certificate. Then the mother and father / second female parent each sign the register, in the others presence; or
The mother or father separately can ask the Registrar to record the father's details on the birth certificate. The Registrar will only do so provided both the mother and father complete declaration of paternity forms (properly signed and witnessed) which record the father's details. The Registrar can supply these forms and advice.
What is parental responsibility?
The law says that parental responsibility is "all the rights, duties, powers, responsibility and authority which, by law, a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property." It enables you to look after your children and do everything they need for their well-being.
It gives you the right to make important decisions about your child's life - like who they should live with, or where they should go to school. It means you are the person who consents to medical treatment for your child. There is no complete list of decisions that someone with parental responsibility can take for a child, because so many different decisions can come up.
Even if you do not have parental responsibility for your child, the law says you have to help pay for their upbringing. (For more information, visit the NI Direct website).
What about my other children?
The law only applies to children born on or after 15 April 2002. If you are a father who is not married or a civil partner and want to get parental responsibility for your older children, you can:
What if I'm not sure?
You do not have to jointly register your child's birth and both parents have to agree. Some people do not want to . An unmarried mother may register the birth on her own without providing details of the father.
If you are not sure about joint registration after reading these guidance notes, do not just go ahead, tell the Registrar you need a few days to think about it. You could also talk to a solicitor about anything that is worrying you, or contact other organisations offering support and advice to parents.