Parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child

Under the old law, the mother of an illegitimate child had parental authority over her child unless she was a minor. The child’s father had no parental authority even if he lived with the mother, although he still had to support his child. The Children’s Act 38 of 2005 which came into operation in 2007 changed this position radically. Many arguments were raised in favour of and against granting automatic responsibilities and rights to unmarried fathers. Even though the Children’s Act doesn’t give full rights and responsibilities to all unmarried fathers, it does confer them on those fathers who want these, and undertake all the necessary obligations and procedures to get them.In terms of the Children’s Act, an unmarried father automatically acquires full rights and responsibilities in respect of his child if he lives with the child’s mother in a permanent life partnership when the child is born, or regardless of whether he has lived with the mother or not, consents or successfully applies to be identified as the father or pays damages in terms of customary law and contributes or attempts to contribute to the child’s upbringing and maintenance for a reasonable period. In these circumstances he gains exactly the same rights and responsibilities as the mother regardless of whether the child was born before or after the coming into operation of this Act.