For some time, the Family Court in the UK has been considered ‘wife-friendly’ when it comes to handling divorces.  So much so that in 2011, legal firms started whispering about the divorce ‘race’, where high-net-worth couples who wanted to end their marriages vied with each other to begin divorce proceedings in the EU country they felt would give him or her the best settlement.  British men it seems, are more likely than ever before to file for divorce overseas rather than risk having to make a large settlement in English courts.

However, financial settlements are only one aspect of divorce.  The issue that can lead many men to despair when their marriage breaks down is the lack of involvement they subsequently have in their children’s lives.

For unmarried Dads, especially those not named on the birth certificate, the fight to be granted parental responsibility may be bitter and lengthy.  This article outlines the law of parental responsibility and what father’s need to know to ensure they stay in their children’s lives and maintain the right to be involved in any decisions regarding their welfare.

What is Parental Responsibility?

Parental responsibility is concerned with the care and upbringing of a child until they grow up.

Under the Children Act 1989 parental responsibility means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibility and authority that, by law, a parent has in relation to their child and their child’s property.

Parental responsibilities include:

• providing a home

• protecting and maintaining the child

• discipline

• contact with the child

• education

• religious upbringing

• consenting to medical treatment

• the child’s surname

• removal out of the jurisdiction and consent to the child’s emigration

• applying for or vetoing the issue of a child’s passport

• representing the child in legal proceedings

• consenting to adoption

• administration of the child’s property

• appointment of a guardian

• burial or cremation of the deceased child

• consent to marriage

Fathers who do not have parental responsibility still have to pay child maintenance.

Who gets Parental Responsibility Automatically?

Parental responsibility is automatically granted to biological mothers. Biological fathers who are married to the mother at the time the child was born also have it.  Adoptive parents who jointly adopt a child both have parental responsibility.

However, fathers who are unmarried to their child’s mother do not automatically have parental responsibility in the UK.

Parental Responsibility and Unmarried Fathers

Biological fathers of children born after 1st December 2003 in England and Wales who are named on the birth certificate have parental responsibility.

An unmarried father may acquire parental responsibility without court proceedings by:

• subsequently marrying the mother

• becoming registered as the child’s father

• entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother

• becoming a formally appointed guardian

Parental responsibility may also be acquired by an unmarried father on the making of:

• a parental responsibility order

• a child arrangements order (CAO) in which the father is named as the person with whom the child is to live (formerly a residence order) in which case a separate parental responsibility order must be made

• a CAO in which the father is named as a person with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact with but is not named as the person with whom the child is to live (formerly a contact order), in which case the court must decide whether it would be appropriate, in view of the provision made in the order, for him to have parental responsibility and, if so, a separate parental responsibility order must be made.

A father may acquire parental responsibility if he is formally appointed as a child’s guardian, the appointment being made by the mother or the court. The appointment can only take effect after the mother’s death.

A mother and an unmarried father may enter into a parental responsibility agreement, as a consequence of which the father will acquire parental responsibility. To be effective, the agreement must be in the prescribed form and be recorded in the prescribed manner. Your Solicitor will be able to assist you with this.

Applying for a Parental Responsibility Order

An unmarried father may apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order.  If paternity is in doubt, the unmarried father would need to take steps to prove paternity before the action could proceed.

When considering an application for a Parental Responsibility Order the child’s welfare will be of paramount consideration to the court.

The court must presume when considering an application for the award of parental responsibility in favour of an unmarried father, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.


As with most family law matters, the best outcomes when it comes to organising parental responsibility usually occur when the parents can work things out among themselves, outside of the courtroom.  An experienced family law Solicitor will encourage both parties to negotiate an agreement between them and assist in creating the best possible family environment for the children involved.

Sultan Lloyd Solicitors have the experience and expertise required to successfully advise father’s on parental responsibility and other issues pertaining to separation and divorce.  To find out how we can help you, please call our Birmingham office on 0121 222 7643 to make an appointment with one of our family law team.