Mothers’ Rights

As a mother, you have parental responsibility for your children, and therefore certain rights in the family court. This guide focuses on the rights of mothers who are divorcing or separating.


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What rights do mothers have in the family courts?

Birth mothers automatically have parental responsibility for their children. This means that they have a legal right to be consulted on decisions about their children’s future, including their education and medical needs.

Having parental responsibility also means the mother has a duty to provide a home for her children, to protect, maintain and discipline them, to name them, to ensure that they are educated and have access to the appropriate medical care, and so on. These responsibilities apply whether she lives with the child or not. These responsibilities will of course also be shared with anyone else who has parental responsibility, most obviously her spouse if they are also the parent of the child.

Mothers have the right to be the primary caregiver, the primary breadwinner, joint caregiver, or joint breadwinner of a child.

Being a mother does not, however, guarantee any legal rights in a settlement in a divorce or separation.

Does the law favour a particular parent when deciding about contact or custody?

Mothers are not favoured over fathers when determining contact or custody. When it comes to a settlement, the court considers the welfare of the children above all, and in most cases, this means that the children should spend time with both parents.

After a separation, a child will usually live with the person who historically did most of the caring – in the UK, this is still typically the mother. However, the child should still have contact with their father. For this reason, the court often expects mothers to provide contact or resident arrangements with him.

Even if the children have little contact with their father, as long as he has parental responsibility, the mother is still responsible for keeping him informed of the children’s well-being and consult with him on decisions about the children’s future. A father will have parental responsibility if he is married to the child’s mother, if he is listed on the child’s birth certificate (after 1 December 2003), if he has been granted parental responsibility by the court, or if he has entered into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the child’s mother.

What are my rights as a mother if I am a non-resident or contact parent?

Many mothers face the same issues as many fathers when they are classified as the non-resident, or absent parent. As well as the barriers to maintaining a healthy and strong relationship to their children that fathers can face, mothers who are not the primary carer for their children often also face unsympathetic attitudes from society at large.

It is important to remember that the court will not prevent a mother from seeing her children unless there are good reasons to do so, such as proven allegations of abuse.

If a father unfairly restricts contact with the children, there are provisions in place for mothers in the courts. The father could face punishments such as fines, community service or prison.

What are mothers’ rights in a same-sex partnership?

If the couple have entered into a civil partnership or are married, the biological mother will automatically have parental responsibility and their partner will also automatically have parental responsibility if they wish to have it. If the couple is simply cohabiting, only the birth mother will have parental responsibility, unless their partner has applied for and been granted it.

Are my rights as a mother the same if I am not married?

Yes. An unmarried mother will still have parental responsibility for the children, and therefore the same rights.


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