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How long does a father have to be absent to lose his rights in England and Wales, UK?

The law explained in this article relates to a child living in the jurisdiction England and Wales. If your child lives elsewhere in the United Kingdom you would need to take advice from a solicitor either in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

It is the legal position that it is in a child’s best interests to have a positive relationship with both parents, unless that child or the parent with primary care, which for the purposes of this article I am assuming is the mother, suffers significant harm if the child were to have a relationship with the non-resident parent.

Most fathers would be recognised in England and Wales as having parental responsibility.  Parental responsibility is defined by section 3(1) of the Children Act 1989 as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.

This means a father who has parental responsibility is recognised as having a responsibility to make day to day decisions when the child is in their care and also important decisions along with the consent of all others who have parental responsibility.

The mother of a child automatically has parental responsibility from the child’s birth.  A father does not have the same automatic rights, if he was not married or in a civil partnership with the mother on the day the child was born.

How does a father get parental responsibility?

  1. Being registered on the child’s birth certificate as the father, provided the child was born after 1 December 2003;
  2. The father entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother; or
  3. The father obtaining a court order granting him parental responsibility.

Can a father lose parental responsibility?

In general, parental responsibility usually ends once the child turns 18. The law in the UK does not specify a certain period of time after which a father automatically loses his parental rights. Regardless of how often a father spends time with his child, which includes no contact at all, a father who has parental responsibility will retain it unless there is an order from the court removing that parental responsibility, which is rare.  Therefore, there is no time limit as to how long a father must be absent to lose his parental responsibility in respect of his child, whether it be weeks, months or even years.

The court will consider what is in the best interests of the child when making decisions about parental responsibility and contact arrangements. Each case is treated on its own merits to make that determination. This means that a father’s absence from a child’s life may be taken into account by the court, but it is just one factor among many. The court will also consider the reasons for the absence and whether the father has made efforts to maintain a relationship with the child. In practice, if a father has been absent from a child’s life for a significant period of time, a cautious approach may have to be taken when reintroducing that child to the absent parent.

It’s important to note that parental rights and responsibilities are separate from the duty to pay child support, which continues regardless of a parent’s involvement in the child’s life.

If you are facing a dispute over parental rights or if you are concerned as to how absent you might have been from your child’s life, it is important that you do obtain legal advice as to your options.  If you do have any questions regarding the content of this article, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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