Parental Responsibility: in England and Wales this is automatically acquired by the father if he is married to the mother of the child, or if he is named as the father on the child’s birth certificate.

Parental responsibility is a legal status defined as “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.”  Parental responsibility continues until a child is aged 18.

It is possible to secure parental responsibility status if you are not married or named on the birth certificate. This can be achieved if the father and the mother sign a parental responsibility agreement. This must be signed in the correct way, and witnessed by an approved witness. Alternatively, an application can be made to the court for an order granting you parental responsibility.

The decision about the contact arrangements for a child, in other words with whom the child should spend time, lies with the person or persons who have parental responsibility. If that cannot be agreed between them a father or mother has the right to make an application to court to seek an order.

  •  A father does not need to have parental responsibility to make such an application.
  • The court will decide the application based on what is best for the child concerned.

What does parental responsibility give you?

Assuming you have parental responsibility, as a father you have equal legal rights and responsibilities to the mother, and indeed with any other person who might have parental responsibility. In the absence of agreement a child arrangements order can be sought from the court and this can dictate who the child lives with permanently, and such order can set out who has contact (spends time) with the child and how often.

Unless the situation is an emergency, or there is some other good reason, negotiation and then mediation should usually be attempted before issuing proceedings. In many cases arrangements can be amicably agreed. However there can be more complex cases involving disputes over the arrangements for the child or children, finance, provision of suitable living arrangements and sometimes violence and abuse. Cases involving domestic abuse are unlikely to be suitable for mediation.

How our family law department can help you

Having parental responsibility means you can take a full part in the decision making regarding your child. Such decision making should be shared with all other persons who have parental responsibility. Without parental responsibility there is no right for you to make decisions regarding your child’s education, medical treatment, living arrangements, who they spend time with and all of the other many decisions that have to be made regarding a child’s life.

If you need advice as an unmarried father and are unsure about parental rights and obligations or you are having difficulties making appropriate contact or living arrangements for your child, our family law department can help. Call us today and we can advise you on your rights and what steps you should take in resolving your family dispute. Contact our family law department today – call 0113 284 5000, or alternatively email myself, Nigel Bowman, at

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