I didn’t know I had a child – What are my legal rights?

If you have only just found out that you and your ex-partner have a child together, which you did not know about, you might find yourself asking ‘what are my legal rights?’. Here, Weronika Husejko looks at  parental responsibility, contact and what the court may consider.

Most parents have what is called ‘parental responsibility’.  Parental responsibility is defined as all of the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authorities which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and the child’s property.  This includes housing the child, maintaining them, and making decisions such as which school the child goes to, or whether they receive certain medical treatment.

Parental responsibility is automatically acquired by a mother by way of giving birth to the child.

The father on the other hand can acquire parental responsibility by one of four ways: –

  1. Being married to the child’s mother
  2. Being named on the child’s birth certificate
  3. By the mother agreeing for the father to have parental responsibility
  4. By applying to the Court for parental responsibility

If you did not know that you were the child’s father, the likelihood may be that you do not have parental responsibility of your child. If the mother or other parent with parental responsibility agrees for you to have parental responsibility, you can complete a Parental Responsibility Agreement. However, if the mother or other parent with parental responsibility do not agree, you can apply to the Court for parental responsibility. If granted by the Court, it will provide you with certain legal rights and responsibilities in relation to the child as mentioned above.  Even if you do not have parental responsibility, you may be able to have contact with the child. If the other parent does not agree for you to spend time with the child, there are various options available to you.  You have the right to apply to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order as a parent of the child regardless of whether you have parental responsibility.

A Child Arrangements Order regulates who and when the child is to live with, spend time with and have any other contact with. So, for example, you wish to apply to the Court for an Order that you spend time with the child on specific days.

When the Court considers this type of application, the child’s welfare will be their paramount consideration. They must have regard to the ‘welfare checklist’ which is set out by Section 1 of the Children Act 1989. This includes things such as the wishes and feelings of the child and their physical, emotional and educational needs.

You may not necessarily have to go to Court if contact with your child cannot be agreed with the mother.  Mediation is a useful option in certain circumstances. There is a requirement to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making a Court application in any event.

If an agreement is reached for contact either directly between yourselves or via a mediator, you can put together a parenting plan. This is not enforceable by the Court however it can be very useful for parents to use it as a basis for their child arrangements.

We can provide you with specific advice as to what your rights and options are as a father. Get in touch with our specialist children team.

If you need advice on this topic, or any other matters concerning divorce or family law, please get in touch with our team at McAlister Family Law.


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