For unmarried fathers in Jersey, knowing what rights and
responsibilities one has for one's children can be confusing.
In the UK the situation is somewhat simpler: if you are named on
the birth certificate, you are automatically endowed with Parental
Responsibility (or PR) for the child in question.
In Jersey today however, unmarried fathers can only obtain PR in
one of two ways: either with the consent of the birth mother, or by
way of a Court order. But change is on the horizon.
A draft law has been lodged for debate in the States on 13
September 2016, the purpose of which is to bring Jersey law
regarding PR into line with the UK.
With great power comes great responsibility
The question is, what is PR? It can be difficult to define, but
in short it is a legal concept which relates to a parent's
duties and responsibilities for a child. The focus is on
responsibilities in relation to children, rather than
'rights' as such. So, for example, day to day decisions
with respect to the upbringing of a child are made by the person
with whom the child resides (the 'primary carer'). However
non-resident parents with PR must be consulted on major decisions,
such as where the child is educated, whether the child has
particular medical treatment or is brought up in a particular
religion. Further (and perhaps of particular interest to those
living in this small Island jurisdiction) no one can take their
child out of the Island permanently without the consent of all
parties who hold PR in respect of that child (or leave of the
court). A parent with PR also has the right to consent or withhold
consent to the child marrying or being adopted. Importantly
however, regardless of whether or not a father (married or
otherwise) has PR, they have an automatic duty to provide
financially for their child.
"Luke, I am your [biological] father"
The draft law (Draft Children and Adoption (Amendment) (Jersey)
Law 201-) aims to amend both the Children Law and the Adoption Law
so that unmarried fathers in Jersey can acquire PR if they are
registered as the child's father, whether at birth or at a
later date. To be clear however, this new provision only relates to
unmarried fathers who are also the stated biological father of the
child. The draft law does not infer any method of adoption 'by
the back door'.
A change for the better, but only for the future
Most family lawyers will see this as a welcome change to the
law, as PR disputes can often cloud wider child related disputes
(such as financial provision and contact matters) and build in
delay. The draft law is unlikely to be brought into force until
early 2017, and unfortunately for some, the changes to the law will
not be retrospective. PR will only automatically be conferred on
unmarried (biological) fathers who are named on birth certificates
after the draft Law comes into effect.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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