Call for equal rights for unmarried fathers

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MSPs heard evidence on a petition calling for equal rights for unmarried fathers on 6 May 2014.

The petition calls for the Scottish government to review the laws that govern parental rights and child access, and their implementation, to ensure unmarried fathers have guaranteed rights to be a part of the lives of their children if they are deemed fit parents.

Margaret Park read out a statement on behalf of her son Ron Park, the petitioner, calling for every effort to be made to name both parents on a birth certificate to allow access to both parents.

Mr Park, who is trying to get access to his baby, wants family courts to enforce paternity testing "in extreme cases" and when in the interest of the child.

The statement said: "Unmarried fathers have no right or legal right until court awarded, as such the child cannot see them".

It went on to say "mothers and fathers have to be considered equal in terms of rights and accountability and responsibility, giving the precedence one over the other is an outdated notion, a child needs both and, if that is at all possible and that is in the child's best interests, this is what we should be striving for every single one".

SNP MSP Chic Brodie commended Mr Park for the "very brave petition", while Labour MSP Anne McTaggart agreed it was "important" and called for the example of England and Wales to be looked at, where there is a rationale of a presumption of shared parenting.

The committee agreed to seek further information from the Scottish government, the Law Society of Scotland, the Family Law Association, Families Need Fathers, Scottish Women's Aid and the UK minister.

Committee convener David Stewart said it would "pursue this with as much activity as it possibly can".

The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 ('the 1995 Act') (as amended) provides for a range of parental rights and responsibilities ('PRRs') in respect of children living in Scotland, where practicable and in the best interests of the child.

PRRs include the right to have the child reside with the person having PRRs and, where the child does not live with that person, the right to have contact with that child.

A range of people automatically have PRRs in respect of a child, including:

  • the child's mother;
  • the child's father where he is married to the mother at the time of the child's conception or subsequently;
  • the child's father where he is registered as the father of a child on or after 4 May 2006.

Therefore, an unmarried father whose child was born before 2006 has no automatic PRRs and neither does a father who is not registered on the birth certificate.

Mr Park's petition states: "As the law stands any unmarried man, regardless of whether he is deemed a fit parent by Social Work or courts, can be refused access to his children on a whim with no reason or explanation.

"Courts cannot force a DNA test to be carried out and as such there is no guarantee that a man can prove he is a child's father, which then means he cannot be awarded access to his children and/or PRRs.

"It's obvious the laws in place are to protect children, and this core value should not change, but an amendment should be added to ensure that men have a right to prove parentage of a child definitively so as they can then be involved in their child's life."

The committee then considered current petitions.

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