Children, paternity and a father’s legal rights by Gavin Scott

Family Law|November 20th 2014

Yesterday, I appeared on BBC Radio WM’s Caroline Martin show to talk about legal issues involving fathers and children.

She discussed a painful scenario which can occur when a couple has broken up and the girlfriend or wife discovers she is pregnant shortly afterwards. She informs her ex-partner about the pregnancy but says she does not want him to have anything to do with the child.

In that situation, what rights does the father have? Does he have any or is the level of contact with the child purely down to her?

I explained that, despite what people may believe, it is not solely up to one parent to decide the arrangements for their child. The law states that the child’s welfare shall be the Court’s paramount concern. The child has a right to grow up knowing both parents.

It is extremely important for a father in this situation to seek legal advice. Firstly, he must consider the issue of the child’s birth certificate. If his name is on it, he will have parental responsibility for the child. If the birth certificate does not have his name on it, and if the parents are not married, other steps must to be taken to obtain parental responsibility as it will not be automatic even if he is the biological father.

In the scenario described it is also important for the father to set out his intentions immediately. He must make it clear that he would like to be an integral part of the child’s life from the outset and establish what periods of time he would like to spend with his child. He must also consider the mother’s position as this will be a delicate time for her.

Additionally, communication needs to be re-established between the parents. There is so much to discuss. Failure to do this can often lead to arguments, protracted court disputes and spiralling costs. I have seen this happen far too often. One possible avenue for these discussions is mediation, which is ideal for these kinds of disputes.

The presenter also asked me about paternity testing before the birth. While that is technically possible, I would not rush to recommend it. Such tests are much easier and less intrusive for a child following a reasonable period from birth.

However, the test will need doing if there is any doubt regarding paternity in the father’s mind. It would be dreadful to find out, after paying child maintenance for several years and in circumstances where a child develops a very close relationship with him, that he was not the father after all.

Issues of paternity and parental rights are always emotionally charged. It can be hard to think straight in such circumstances so I would urge parents in this situation to obtain legal advice at a very early stage to minimise difficulties and disputes.  It will be in the child’s best interests for their arrangements to be agreed early with minimal disruption so they have a good start in life.

To listen to my full interview, click here. My segment begins at 01:47:30.

Gavin Scott is Head of Stowe Family Law’s London office. He is a qualified mediator with a thorough knowledge of all aspects of family law. He is a specialist in complex and high asset financial matters, in particular involving businesses, trusts and overseas assets.

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  1. Delyth Rennie says:

    I agree with this, but wonder if you are able to offer any view if the father had NOT been told. If, for example, a step father sought to adopt the child at a later date, what steps do you think could (or should) be taken to a) determine paternity and b) inform the father.

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