Parental responsibility – the facts


Parental responsibility refers to the rights and relationship between parent and child. These rights may include:

  • Having contact with their children
  • Being able to discipline them
  • Meeting with the children’s teachers
  • Taking them to the doctors

Parental responsibility can be obtained with the assistance of a specialist family law solicitor, but in certain circumstances it may be obtained automatically. The rules regarding this are varied, and below is a summary of the law regarding parental responsibility in the UK.

For full and more accurate advice it would be beneficial to speak to a family law solicitor - call us and we will be able to help you.

Mother and father rights

Mothers automatically gain parental responsibility at the birth of her child. A mother always has parental responsibility for her children - this is unaffected by marital status. Unlike mothers, fathers do not always have parental responsibility.

Fathers without parental responsibility cannot:

  • Authorise medical treatment for their children (except in emergencies)
  • See their medical records
  • Prevent their adoption or change of surname
  • Prevent their removal abroad

A father can apply to the court to gain parental responsibility and the court will take the following into account:

  • The degree of commitment shown by the father to his child
  • The degree of attachment between father and child
  • The father's reasons for applying for the order

Throughout the UK the rules vary as to how a father obtains parental responsibility.

For births registered in England and Wales

Married parents: both have parental responsibility. Parents do not lose parental responsibility if they divorce, and this applies to both the resident and the non-resident parent.

Unmarried parents:  the mother always has parental responsibility for her child. The father, however, if unmarried, can only obtain parental responsibility through one of these three routes:

  • By jointly registering the birth of the child with the mother
  • By a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
  • By a parental responsibility order, made by a court

All parents (including adoptive parents) have a legal duty to financially support their child, whether they have parental responsibility or not. Fathers without parental responsibility can therefore still be pursued for maintenance payments (although may be subject to DNA confirmation of paternity).

For births registered in Scotland

  • A father has parental responsibility if he is married to the mother when the child is conceived, or any time after that date
  • An unmarried father has parental responsibility if he is named on the child's birth certificate (or at a re-registration of the birth)

For births registered in Northern Ireland

  • A father has parental responsibility if he is married to the mother at the time of the child's birth
  • If a father marries the mother after the child's birth, he has parental responsibility if he lives in Northern Ireland at the time of the marriage
  • An unmarried father has parental responsibility if he is named, or becomes named, on the child's birth certificate

The court will then decide to accept or reject the application based on what it believes is in the child's best interest. Legal cases involving children are often complex and stressful. Appeals are very expensive, so it is important to have the right legal representation from the start so that you can achieve an effective result. If you wish to obtain parental responsibility, it is highly recommended to seek legal advice from a solicitor specialised in family law.

If you have further questions, you may wish to visit our FAQ page on parental responsibility.

Do you want to gain parental responsibility over a child, or is your responsibility in dispute? Contact Law can put you in touch with a specialist family law solicitor who can represent your wishes and obtain a successful outcome. Please call us on 0800 1777 162 or complete the web-form above.

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