Earlier this week it was revealed that by the year 2016, more than half of babies born in the UK will be born to unmarried mothers. This estimation is based on the release of statistics which show that in the year 2012, 47.5% of babies born, were born to unmarried mothers. This figure includes babies born to same sex parents, who are not in a Civil Partnership. Over the past few decades, the number of unmarried mothers giving birth has steadily increased. This is likely to be a reflection of the change in society’s attitude towards marriage.

As a Family Lawyer – the question that comes to mind is whether the law is adapting to suit the changing position of social values.

Currently, all mothers automatically have ‘parental responsibility’ for their child(ren). Parental responsibility is defined as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’. (Section 3 Children’s Act 1989). In short, this gives a parent the right to have an input into any important decisions to be made in a child’s life such as where a child is educated, giving access rights such as access to a child’s medical records etc. Fathers that are married to the mother and the non-biological parent in a civil partnership (if the baby is conceived with his/her consent) will also automatically acquire parental responsibility.

In England and Wales, if the father is not married to the mother but is registered on the child’s birth certificate as the father and the child was born on or after the 1st December 2003, the father will have automatic parental responsibility too.

However, fathers who are not married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, or in some cases, are not on the birth certificate, do not automatically have parental responsibility. Where this is the case, it is possible to obtain parental responsibility either with the written agreement of the mother or by obtaining a court order.

Same-sex partners who are not in a civil partnership can also acquire parental responsibility if the child was conceived within a licensed clinic in the UK and the necessary forms have been completed. The non-biological parent can be registered on the birth certificate.

The law does not differentiate between the separation of married/unmarried parents in terms of making arrangements for the children. It also does not differ for same sex parents or straight parents.

if you would like any advice in relation to making arrangements for children upon divorce or separation, or indeed any other aspect of family law, please do not hesitate to contact our team of experienced family law solicitors.