Birth fathers’ rights

Whether you're in a rock-steady relationship with the mother of your child, or barely on speaking terms, you have rights and responsibilities. Here's the deal:

Young man holding a baby.

This baby has a true sense of justice.

What does parental responsibility mean?

As the father of a child you have a duty to maintain the child until it leaves school by paying a proportion of your income. This can be done inside the relationship or, if it breaks up, either through agreement with the child’s mother or through the Child Support Agency. This is your responsibility even if you weren’t in a long-term relationship with the mother when the child was conceived.

If you are not married to the mother of your child, you won’t have automatic parental responsibility – even if you are living with the child’s mother.

Getting parental responsibility

You can get equal parental responsibility under any of the following circumstances:

  • Registering the child’s birth jointly with the child’s mother;
  • Making a parental responsibility agreement with the mother;
  • Acquiring a parental responsibility order from a court;
  • If you are appointed as guardian;
  • If you marry the child’s mother.

Legally, parental responsibility goes on until your child reaches 18 but as they get older so the law assumes that your child is more capable of making their own decisions.

What are the responsibilities?

As a parent (with parental responsibility) the Children Act 1989 says your responsibilities are ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’.

This includes:

  • Safeguarding and promoting a child’s health, development and welfare;
  • Financially supporting the child;
  • Providing direction and guidance to the child;
  • Maintaining direct and regular contact with the child;
  • Acting as a legal representative until the child is 16 if required;
  • Ensuring that the child is suitably educated;

In order to fulfil these responsibilities there are certain rights that can be used by the parent. These can include:

  • Having the child living with the person with responsibility or having a say in where the child lives;
  • Controlling, directing and guiding the child’s upbringing;
  • If the child is not living with you, having a personal relationship and regular contact with the child;
  • Acting as a legal representative until the child is 16 if required;
  • Choosing the child’s name, but there may be restrictions on changing a child’s name;
  • Choosing the child’s education;
  • Being the person to give consent for medical treatment, issuing passports, adoption and marriage for a child under 18;
  • Choosing a guardian for the child;
  • Making decisions about the child’s property on the child’s behalf and for their benefit.

The child’s mother wants to put the baby up for adoption

  • Mothers can’t give up the child for adoption until six weeks after its birth;
  • Whether or not you are married to the mother you have automatic rights to be at the hearing;
  • You no longer need a parental responsibility order to object to the adoption, as long as you and the mother register the birth of your baby together;
  • You will be asked to give your consent for the adoption to go ahead, however, if you cannot be found then your consent is not needed;
  • If you do not consent the court has the power to override this refusal and still make an adoption order.

The law under review?

Child Access laws may be amended in the near future, to enforce access arrangements where one parent refuses to comply. At present, many fathers complain that their ex-partners are ignoring any rulings or arrangments laid out by the courts. If the government review favours changes, this may mean parents who withold access rights could be served a community service order, or even tagged.

Photo of a man and baby by Shutterstock.

Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015