Legal Information

This section isn’t intended to give you legal advice regarding contact with your ex-partner. For that, you must seek legal advice from a solicitor. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau can advise you how to find a solicitor experienced in dealing with family issues – and also advise on applying for Legal Aid, if you need it. Here, you’ll find information about terms you may hear being used if you’re in the process of separating, and what they mean for you.

Parental Responsibility.

  • Unlike mothers, fathers do not always have ‘parental responsibility’ for their children. With more than one in three children now born outside marriage, some parents may be unclear about who has legal parental responsibility for their children. While the law does not define parental responsibility in detail, the key roles are:
  • Providing a home for the child
  • Having contact with and living with the child
  • Protecting and maintaining the child
  • Disciplining the child
  • Choosing and providing for the child’s education
  • Determining the religion of the child
  • Agreeing to the child’s medical treatment
  • Naming the child and agreeing to any change of the child’s name
  • The right to take or receive photographs of the child
  • Accompanying the child outside the UK and agreeing to the child’s emigration, should the issue arise
  • Being responsible for the child’s property
  • Appointing a guardian for the child, if necessary
  • Allowing confidential information about the child to be disclosed

A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth. However, the conditions for fathers gaining parental responsibility vary throughout the UK.

For births registered in England and Wales.
In England and Wales, if the parents of a child are married to each other at the time of birth, or if they have jointly adopted a child, then they both have parental responsibility. Parents do not lose parental responsibility if they divorce. This applies to both the parent who lives with the child (the resident parent) and the one who doesn’t (non-resident parent).

This is not automatically the case for unmarried parents. A father has responsibility only if he is married to the mother when the child is born, or has acquired legal responsibility for his child through one of these three routes:

  • By jointly registering the birth of the child with the mother (from December 1, 2003)
  • Through a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
  • Through a parental responsibility order made by a court

Living with the mother, even for a long time, does not give a father parental responsibility. If the parents are not married, parental responsibility does not always pass to the natural father even if the mother dies.

Applying to the courts for Parental Responsibility

A father can apply to the court to gain parental responsibility. When considering an application from a father 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

The court decides whether to accept or reject the application based on the child’s best interest.

All parents (including adoptive parents) have a legal duty to financially support their child, whether they have parental responsibility or not.