Fathers’ Rights

In instances where a relationship ends badly, it’s not uncommon for disputes to arise about how the children should be raised, who will take care of them and how parental duties will be shared. This page aims to educate separated fathers on their rights with regards to seeing, caring for and bringing up their children. Importantly, how much of a say a father can have in his child’s life depends on whether he has “parental responsibility”.


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What is parental responsibility?

All maternal mothers and many paternal fathers automatically have something known as “parental responsibility”, which dictates that these individuals must provide a home and food and contribute to the general upbringing of the child. A father with parental responsibility can then be involved in important decisions, such as the naming of the child (including any change of name at a later date), the choice of the child’s schools, the child’s medical treatment and the disciplining of the child.

How do fathers’ rights differ from mothers’ rights?

A father’s rights differ from a mother’s in that not all fathers are automatically attributed parental responsibility, whereas all mothers are. All fathers who were married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth will automatically qualify for parental responsibility, as will those whose name appears on the child’s birth certificate as the father on or after 1st December 2003.

The mother’s rights will also differ from the father’s in that a mother will typically have residency, barring extreme circumstances or an agreement to the contrary between the partners. Similarly, a father with parental responsibility will not automatically obtain a say in the day-to-day upbringing of the child, but they will share in bigger decisions about their life.

What decisions does a father have a right to share in?

The parent with residency has the right to make day-to-day decisions about the child’s life, and assuming that person is not the father, it is the mother who will make those decisions. However, the father does have a right to be consulted and to influence more important decisions regarding their upbringing, including the following:

  • The choice, registration and possible amendment of the child’s name (including surname)
  • The choice of the children’s guardian in the event of the death of one or both of their parents
  • The child’s school and the kind of education they receive, including any change of school
  • The religion with which the child is raised
  • Any potential adoption of the child
  • Any medical treatment the child may receive for more serious conditions
  • Access to the child’s medical records
  • Whether the child can be taken abroad for an extended period (either on holiday or to live)
  • The child’s marriage (if the child is between 16 and 18 years of age)
  • The choice of representation of the child in any legal proceedings

Which father’s rights does parental responsibility not include?

It is important to remember that parental responsibility does not automatically give a father the right to see or contact the child – the right itself remains with the child, not the father. The father also does not have a right to know the location of the child or indeed all or any of the other people with parental responsibility, though the primary caregiver (usually the mother) does have an obligation to keep the father informed about the child’s wellbeing and development.

How can a father qualify for parental responsibility?

If a father is not married to the child’s mother at the time of birth and does not appear on the child’s birth certificate after 1st December 2003, there are a number of other ways in which they can apply or qualify for parental responsibility.

Firstly, if the child was born before the above date with no name listed as father on the birth certificate, the child’s birth can be re-registered to include their name afterwards.

Secondly, the father can obtain a parental responsibility agreement, which requires the consent of the mother and anyone else who already has parental responsibility. More than two people can have parental responsibility at one time – the number is unlimited – but all pre-existing members of the agreement must consent to the father’s accession prior to receiving it. The agreement form must be signed and witnessed by a county court or family proceedings court official and the father must show proof of identity and the child’s birth certificate when applying.

Thirdly, a father can apply for a parental responsibility order from the court. This is usually only necessary if the mother or any other party with parental responsibility disagrees with the father. In this case, the father must pay a fee of £232 (financial help is available from the government for those unable to pay) to apply for the court order. The local county court or family proceedings court will review the application and make a decision based upon what they perceive as being in the best interests of the child.

Will a mother’s new partner change the father’s rights?

If the mother finds a new partner who she wishes to share in the upbringing of the child, the father must consent to the new party receiving parental responsibility. If this consent is denied, the new partner can seek to obtain parental responsibility by applying for a court order in exactly the same way listed above for fathers.

Even if the new partner does gain parental responsibility, this will not replace or transplant the parental responsibility of the father. Parental responsibility can never be transferred from one party to another, though it can be shared. As such, the new partner will gain an equal share in deciding the future of the child’s upbringing as the father.

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What financial obligations does a father have?

All fathers, regardless of whether they have parental responsibility or not, are required where possible and practical, to contribute financially to the upbringing of their child. The amount which a father is required to pay can be determined in several ways. The most desirable is through a mutual agreement between the father and mother (or other primary caregiver, if it is not her). The second and third are through arrangements made by either an independent mediator or a solicitor. The final method is through the Child Support Agency (for ongoing cases started before 25th November 2013) or the Child Maintenance Service (for all cases begun after that date).

The exact amount which a father must pay as decided by the Child Support Agency or Child Maintenance Service will vary greatly depending on the specific circumstances of their employment, their living arrangements, the amount of care they provide to the child and of course, how many children they have. A general rule of thumb indicates that a father must pay 15% of his net income for the first child and an additional 5% for the second and third children.

However, these percentages are only a rough guide and will be affected by a number of circumstances. For example, if the father earns a very low wage or they are currently receiving benefits, they may pay a reduced rate or even a flat rate of as little as £7 per child per week. This also applies if the father is living with someone who collects Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income Support. Additionally, if a father pays towards the mortgage of the property in which the child is staying, or if the child spends a number of days each week with the father, their financial obligations may also be reduced.

A father’s financial obligations will be waived if they are still in full time education or if they are living in a nursing or retirement home and receive financial assistance to pay the fees for their care.

What happens if a father wants to take the child(ren) abroad?

If the father has residency, he may take them abroad for a period of four weeks without receiving consent from other people with parental responsibility over the child. However, in most cases, the mother is the primary caregiver and, in these scenarios, the father must obtain permission from her (and any other people with parental responsibility) before doing so. A father who takes a child abroad without receiving that permission could potentially be convicted of child abduction, a very serious offence.

What rights does an unmarried father have?

An unmarried father without parental responsibility will have almost none of the rights  listed on this page that a father with parental responsibility would have. Additionally, they will not be able to obtain a passport in the child’s name, nor access of any of their medical, legal or educational records. An unmarried father without parental responsibility would have to petition the court for the right to contact their child, and he will remain liable to make child support payments.

An unmarried father with parental responsibility, on the other hand, will enjoy the same rights as a married father with parental responsibility, as outlined above.

What rights do stepfathers have?

As with an unmarried father, a stepfather without parental responsibility will not have any of the rights mentioned on this page. However, a stepfather can gain parental responsibility in one of the following four ways:

  • Through adoption of the child
  • When a courtroom rules through a Child Arrangements Order that the child should live with the stepfather, either on his own or with a partner (although this is very uncommon)
  • If the stepfather obtains permission of all other people with parental responsibility in signing a parental responsibility agreement
  • If a courtroom has awarded the stepfather parental responsibility after he has applied for a court order

Two fathers: how does it work with same-sex couples?

If two men wish to have a child through using a surrogate, they must apply for a parental order to transfer parental responsibility from the surrogate to themselves. This application must be completed within six months of the child’s birth and the child must be living with them at the time. Furthermore, one of the commissioning fathers must use his sperm to impregnate the surrogate, and the surrogate must give her permission to transfer parental responsibility.

If adopting, parental responsibility will automatically be transferred to both fathers listed on the adoption certificate.

Is it possible for fathers to opt out of a parental responsibility agreement?

It is possible for a father to opt out of a parental responsibility agreement, but to do so, they must apply for a court order to enact it. This can also be achieved by a successful application from anyone else with parental responsibility or the child themselves.

When does a father’s parental responsibility end?

A father’s personality responsibility will only end when one of the following scenarios comes to pass:

  • The child reaches 18 years of age
  • The child marries or enters into a civil partnership aged 16 or 17
  • The child is adopted
  • A Child Arrangements Order is overturned or expires
  • The child obtains a court order removing the father’s parental responsibility
  • Any other person with parental responsibility obtains a court order removing the father’s parental responsibility
  • The child dies
  • The father dies

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If relevant, please include below the name of the other party (so the solicitor can check they have not already provided advice to your partner):

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