Letter: Parental duty of cohabiting parents

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From Ms Karin Pappenheim

Sir: Gavin Evans ("Mum won't let me see you again, Dad", 28 July) is right to highlight the need for greater awareness of the implications - financial and otherwise - of having children as a cohabiting couple, and for information on Parental Responsibility Agreements and Orders to be more widely available. With the growing number of births outside marriage - 34 per cent in 1993 - this issue is ever more current.

However, it is important to point out that while an agreement or order gives parents some rights and responsibilities, it imposes no further obligation on the father to help to maintain the child financially or to participate in its life. Sadly, in many cases of relationship breakdown, the woman is left, literally, holding the baby; and she is unable to secure practical support from the absent father, either financially or in terms of parenting.

The breakdown of relationships involves complex and painful emotions; and people do not always behave fairly and rationally when feelings of anger, guilt and betrayal dominate. Mediation, which is likely to be introduced for couples who are divorcing (and could be extended to cohabiting couples), offers an alternative means of reaching agreement when parents split up.

Your article rightly suggests that the issues at stake are vital for unmarried parents and need better publicity. But any discussion about rights must look also at responsibilities.


Karin Pappenheim


National Council for One Parent Families

London, NW5

2 August