Within the United Kingdom there remains a silent boundary for every male that either has, or will have a child to call his own. A steel sky, painted and portrayed to look like the real thing which can reduce a man’s role as father to a title which exists in name only, and secures none of the accolades that should naturally come with fatherhood itself.
The issue here is a legal term simply referred to as Parental Responsibility (PR). One might assume upon hearing the term that this is a set of unwritten, non-tangible obligations that each person bestows upon themselves when they make the decision to become a parent. In many ways you’re right, however in the UK you’d be horribly wrong.
Parental Responsibility, in it’s fullest, broadest legal definition is described as the following, by the UK government:
“If you have parental responsibility, your most important roles are to:
· provide a home for the child
· protect and maintain the child”
The above is taken directly from the UK’s .Gov website, and goes on to elaborate other benefits of having Parental Responsibility (PR):
“You’re also responsible for:
· disciplining the child
· choosing and providing for the child’s education
· agreeing to the child’s medical treatment
· naming the child and agreeing to any change of name
· looking after the child’s property”
Interestingly (and interjected as a side note), they also state that having PR does not entitle any individual to contact with the child, but does entitle them to maintenance payments.
Yes, you heard that right. By law, anyone who has been granted Parental Responsibility is not guaranteed contact with the child/children in question, but is expected to pay maintenance, contact or not.
However, the loose guarantees provided by possessing PR is not the issue. As flippant and unaccommodating as it is to have PR, the real problem is what is involved in acquiring it in the first place. If you’re male, that is.
By law any woman that gives birth to a child is automatically granted Parental Responsibility. No paper work, no positive action to be taken – By virtue of giving birth, the mother of the child will instantly be recognized by the state as possessing PR. A perfectly reasonable and logical system at this point.
The father however is not recognized as having PR when his child is born. In order to acquire it he can do one of two things, detailed again by the UK’s government website:
“A father usually has parental responsibility if he is:
· married to the child’s mother
· listed on the birth certificate (after a certain date, depending on which part of the UK the child was born in)”
A further option is to sign a Parental Responsibility application form, which can only be completed with the mothers consent. To date, these remain the only three methods of acquiring PR amicably.
What do I mean by “amicably?” Well, all of these options rely on the cooperation of the mother. Whereas she will gain PR without anyone else’s permission, a father’s main options are heavily reliant on an amicable relationship with the mother of his child. If things are not amicable between then, no consideration is spared for why this may be, or who may have been responsible for the break up – The mother, in every instance no matter her character, will have the power to influence. If neither of these options are viable the remaining option is to apply via the court system for PR of your own child, which involves the following, again provided by the UK Government website:
“If you want parental responsibility but can’t agree on arrangements with the mother, you can apply for a court order.
A court order costs £215.”
£215, roughly translated to about $331 is the exact price of fatherhood in the UK today. However what the state fails to mention here is that this is an initial cost, one which can inflate should there be objection by the mother of the child. A scenario like this will then result in a court case for parental rights with legal fees applying only to the party that has a full time job, in the UK people who are unemployed receive free legal aid.
Now, if you haven’t joined the dots and you’re still wondering what’s wrong with all this, I’ll explain further.
At the most base level this is an equality issue. Here we have, backed and supported by government, a legislation that grants unique rights and responsibilities to one half of the population, yet requires the other half to take positive action and receive the blessing of someone else in order to obtain it. That is not equality, it’s the exact opposite.
In no other situation would that be deemed appropriate. Further to this, the current system is increasingly open to abuse by the vengeful, unreasonable ex partners of men. By no means is that a statement which aims to label all women as vengeful and unreasonable. Not at all, but there’s no denying that such women do exist.
In such cases where a man is (or is about to become) a father to a child he will share with such a woman, he finds himself in a position of complete submission – A role of utter subordination where another individual ( of no comparative, legitimate, credible authority) maintains power over exactly how much responsibility he can have for his child.
All it takes in situations like this to completely negate a man’s involvement with his own children, is to simply fail to inform him of when the birth registration is taking place. He cannot arrange it himself, as he has no responsibilities until it is signed and short of camping outside the registration office perpetually until he see’s his ex partner arrive to sign the paperwork, he will have no way of knowing when registration is taking place and will then fail to sign the one document that would grant him equality with the mother of his offspring.
Once a birth certificate is produced without a father’s signature, as far as the state is aware that child simply just does not have a father. The man in question here also has no legal responsibilities to the child and as such does not have to be involved in any decision making about the child’s name, medical treatment, education or anything else relevant in it’s life.
Currently within the UK there are 2 million “lone parent” families, with women making up 90% of those. These are children which don’t live with their fathers and whose mother is no longer in a relationship with him. It’s unknown how many of these fathers have contact with their children, but each one of these men have the potential of having their rights abused by this lopsided legislation. Custody battles and family courts are notoriously difficult to go through, especially for men, and not being recognized as your child’s responsible parent in the eyes of the state is certainly not helping an already difficult situation, severely disadvantaging all fathers from the beginning.
As with anything of this nature, the first step toward change is awareness. This is not the first time this issue has been highlighted, local governments and political factions have been contacted long before now about the glaring inequality legislation like this establishes, however it is now that a concentrated effort is being made to gain widespread exposure for this vile defamation of basic parental rights.
To help, we would like to ask all of you to assist in spreading awareness, and to start by adding your support here:
Generally speaking an online petition is not the ‘go to’ method of achieving things via activism. However this petition provides grounds with which to further argue the case in ongoing discussions with local government and policy makers in all major political parties. To date we have official acknowledgements from most major political groups, as well as from the head office of the countries First Minister – Pending detailed, specific replies from all. A strong signature base for this petition would strengthen our position in all of these talks, and highlight this issue as something that a vast number of people really do care about.
While this petition is solely focused on legislation within Northern Ireland, it’s worth noting that NI is part of the UK and is subject to their laws. Any change in legislation here would lend itself directly toward the same change in the UK and would strike a victory for fathers the world over, working as an example of what the reality should be in other countries.
Finally, every time a signature is added, the relevant government department responsible for changing this gets an email. If we can push the boundaries of this campaign and reach signature numbers in the thousands, that equates to thousands of individual emails sent directly to those in power and creates a vivid picture of support for fathers in the UK.
This campaign provides a real platform via which to enact change. And each one of you that reads this and lends their name to the signature base, allow us to take one step further and turns our ripples into waves that can no longer be ignored.
UK .Gov website relating to Parental Responsibility (PR):
Costs of applying for PR:
2 Million lone parents: