Birth fathers’ rights in the UK

Often fathers don’t have the spotlight when it comes to making major decisions about their child’s life. While we should totally put the mother and baby first, in a lot of different ways, that doesn’t mean that dads shouldn’t have any say in the matter. Read on as we detail fathers’ rights for you.

A young man is thinking about fathers' rights. This is a wide-angle image.

Whether you’re in a rock-steady relationship with the mother of your child, or barely on speaking terms, read our guide to birth father’s rights and responsibilities in the UK so you know what to expect.

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 an unmarried father or 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.

How to obtain parental responsibility

You can get equal parental responsibility if you have:

  • Registered the child’s birth jointly with the child’s mother.
  • Made a parental responsibility agreement with the mother.
  • Acquired a parental responsibility court order.
  • Been appointed as guardian.
  • Married the child’s mother.

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

What are a birth father’s 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 a child’s life 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 important decisions such as 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.

Fathers’ rights during pregnancy in the UK

During pregnancy a father does not have any automatic rights to contact the mother or make decisions relating to the pregnancy. The mother doesn’t need the father’s consent to terminate the pregnancy, receive medical treatment or travel abroad.

The father needs the mother’s consent in order to access medical records relating to the pregnancy, attend medical appointments with the mother (even those relating to the pregnancy e.g. scans), be present at the birth or notified of the birth and to visit the mother and baby in hospital after the birth has happened.

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

Mothers can’t legally give up the child for adoption until six weeks after its birth. It’s also worth noting:

  • Whether or not you are married to the mother, you have automatic rights to be at the hearing.
  • You need parental responsibility to object. If you weren’t ever married to the mother of the child and you’re not named on the child’s birth certificate, you can apply to the court for a parental responsibility order to get it.
  • 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, for example if they think the adoption would keep the child safe or if you’re not considered capable of giving consent.

If the child’s mother won’t let you see the child

Many fathers complain that their ex-partners are ignoring any rulings or arrangements laid out by the courts. If a child arrangements order is in place and the mother ignores it, the law supports a range of measures against them including fines, unpaid work and in extreme cases prison or changing the primary guardian of the child. Mediation is always the first port of call, however.

Father’s rights UK helpline

The organisation Families Need Fathers have a helpline for fathers in the UK. If you’re concerned or have questions about your rights as a father you can call them on: 0300 0300 36.

Next Steps

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 15-Jun-2022