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"Who's the daddy?" - How to establish paternity in Care Proceedings?

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When the Local Authority have concerns about the welfare of a child, they will usually have ongoing involvement and conversations with the parents of the child. In making a plan to keep the child safe, the social worker will make enquiries with any estranged parent and/or any extended family who could be considered a “safety person” for the child. If the concerns for the child heighten and Care Proceedings are initiated, the Local Authority have a duty to inform every person who holds parental responsibility for the child.

Parental responsibility

The mother of a child automatically holds parental responsibility for a child upon its birth. However, fathers are not automatically given this right unless they were married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth. If the father is not on the child’s birth certificate and there is no query as to whether he is the biological father of the child, he may apply to become party to the proceedings at the initial Care Proceedings hearing. If the paternity of the child is in dispute, then a DNA test may be organised for any putative fathers to ascertain who the child’s biological father is.

It is extremely important for the child’s biological parents to be identified if the child is subject to Care Proceedings as it will be essential in relation to the long term planning for the child’s safety. If the biological father is identified and wishes to put themselves forward to care for the child, assessments can be undertaken and the father can apply to become a party to the proceedings and play an active role in the Care Proceedings. Identifying this biological link may also open up opportunity for any family members of the father to be assessed to care for the child through a Kinship assessment; this is particularly important where the Local Authority’s final plan for the child may be that of adoption.

Although a person may be identified as the biological father of a child, this does not automatically give them parental responsibility and the ability to make decisions for the child due to them not being on the birth certificate. Parental Responsibility is determined under 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.” If the mother is not in agreement to the father being added to the birth certificate, the father may make an application to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order. The mother will be asked as to why she objects to the father being given parental responsibility and the Court will consider any welfare concerns that are raised before making their decision. If granted by the Court, the Parental Responsibility Order will stipulate that the father shares parental responsibility of the child with the mother equally.

Declaration of parentage

An application may also be made by the father to the Court for a Declaration of Parentage which if granted by the Court will allow for the father to be added to the birth certificate or removed if necessary if it is established the father on the birth certificate is not the biological father. The Court will also consider if this is in the best interests of the child before they order this.

If you have been informed that you could be the father of a child who is now subject to Care Proceedings and have been contacted by the Local Authority then please don’t hesitate to contact us at our Leicester Office on 0116 2554855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610 312. Alternatively, you can contact us via the website on www.johnsonastills.com for expert legal advice in this area.

Here at Emery Johnson Astills, we have extensive experience in advising and assisting parents at all stages of involvement with the Local Authority including applying for fathers to become party to the proceedings and any issues which arise surrounding paternity throughout.