The concept of a traditional family unit has changed and, in some situations, this give rise to problems. Figures from 2016 suggest that, not only can separation have a huge impact on the mental wellbeing of the family unit, but it has a financial impact too. According to the Relationships Foundation’s Report “The Cost of Family Failure Index”, the economic impact of family breakdown in 2016 was higher than the UK defence budget, at an incredible £48bn. That equates to £1,820 for every tax payer.
Sometimes, people believe that, when one parent (in the majority of cases, still the father) has removed themselves or been removed from the family unit, that they give up all rights and influence on how the children are then raised. However, that is not true and, even if a parent is absent for a prolonged period, they still have a right to influence how the children are raised. If the parent’s name is on the birth certificate, then that parent is deemed to have Parental Responsibilities and Rights.
In practical terms, having Parental Responsibilities and Rights means that the parent has a say in any decisions about the children’s education, health, wellbeing and various other every day decisions including:
Importantly, however, Parental Responsibilities and Rights do not automatically allow contact to the child or, indeed, the right, automatically, to know where the child is living.
The system assumes (not always correctly) that it is the mother who is most fit to bring up a child, so she automatically has Parental Responsibilities and Rights. Married fathers also acquire them automatically and do not lose those rights if they divorce the children’s mother. Unmarried fathers, however, do not automatically acquire that right, nor do step-parents or grandparents. Unmarried fathers acquire Parental Responsibilities and Rights if their name is included on the children’s birth certificates and the children were born after 5 May 2006. Alternatively, a mother can confer Parental Responsibilities and Rights to a father or he can obtain them by applying to the Court for an Order.
The bottom line is that, whether a parent is absent for a number of months or a number of years, the rights of both the mother and the father do not change. Of course, the welfare of the child should be the priority, regardless of how long the absentee parent has been away, and both the Courts and any legal representatives will ensure that their interests are put first.