The Matrimonial Clauses Act of 1857 gave men the right to divorce their wives if they had committed adultery although women did not have the reciprocal right. Once divorced any children of the marriage became the property of the husband.
The Children Act 1989
According to The Children Act of 1989 the welfare of the child is paramount. Contact replaces the word access and custody is replaced by residence. The Act is concerned with the responsibility of parents rather than with their rights.
Mothers automatically have parental responsibility. If the parents were married at the time of the birth then both have parental responsibility and, if a child was born after first of December 2003 and the father is named on the birth certificate then he will also have parental responsibility. This is regardless of the fact that he may or may not have been married to the mother at the time of the birth. A father can acquire parental responsibility either by formal agreement with the mother or by a court order.
Parental responsibility defines the rights and duties of parenthood
Parental responsibility is defined by a wide ranging set of responsibilities that are shared by both parents. Clearly they are considerable and should not be entered into lightly. They are:
Naming and choosing a school for your child
Making sure that they receive medical treatment
Appointing a guardian in the event of parental death
Applying for a passport
Representing your child
Ensuring that your child attends school from the ages of five to sixteen
Deciding on your child's religion – if any