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Fathers’ rights

Separating parents can wonder what rights does a father have following divorce. Though children more often go to live with the mother after parents separate, this is in no way an automatic assumption. The courts will always start with the presumption that it is best that both parents have contact with the children. Where a father has been the primary carer – doing most of the work looking after the children – it is likely that the children will remain living with him. Where a child does not live with the father, he will have as much contact with the child as is practicable and suitable for that child. The court will only prevent a father from seeing a child if there are good reasons – for example proven allegations of neglect or abuse. If a mother unfairly restricts access to the child, the court can use a variety of mechanisms to punish this, including fines, community service and even prison.

A fathers right to their children during a divorce is based purely on whether he has parental responsibility - the process of divorce does not affect this in anyway.

If you need advice or representation on any Children Law matters, click below for a free initial consultation with one of our expert Children solicitors.


What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility covers the rights, powers, responsibilities and authority that a parent has in relation to a child under the law. These important decisions include:

  • The name of the child (this includes their surname and any changes to this).
  • Their living arrangements including feeding and clothing.
  • Choosing their religious beliefs. If there is a mix of beliefs, then the child should be exposed to both religions until old enough to decide for themselves.
  • Determining their education and the school they will attend as well as having access to school reports.
  • Giving consent to medical treatment and procedures and having access to medical records.
  • Appointing a guardian if the parents die.
  • Giving consent to the child being taking abroad for holidays or longer periods.
  • Representing the child in court.
  • Disciplining the child.

Who has Parental Responsibility?

Parental responsibility can either be automatic or acquired depending on the persons relationship to the child and their marital status.

The biological mother will always have automatic parental responsibility for a child. The situation is not always the same for the biological father, who will only have automatic parental responsibility where one of the following criteria are met:

  • He was married to the mother at the time of the birth or at a later date
  • Where he was named as the father on the birth certificate at the time the birth is either registered or re-registered (this applies from December 2003)
  • If he adopts the child
  • Where the father becomes the childs guardian

Does divorce end a fathers rights in relation to their children

Parents that are married or in a civil partnership will not lose their parental responsibility if they divorce or separate- it does not matter that they are not living with their child. Parental responsibility can end either automatically or by a court order.

Parental responsibility ends either automatically or via a court order in the following situations:

  • When the child reaches 18 years
  • On the making of an adoption order
  • In surrogacy cases, in the making of a parental order
  • By a court order

How does an unmarried father get parental responsibility?

We do get asked what rghts do fathers have if they are not on the birth certificate. It is worth noting here what the situation is for unmarried fathers where a relationship ends. An unmarried father that is not named on the birth certificate will not automatically have parental responsibility. This means that the mother will be able to make all decisions in relation to the child, including where they live, and the father does not have any input. To get around this issue, the father can either get a:

  • He enters into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother and files this with the Central Family Court

  • If he obtains a court order granting him parental responsibility
  • A father that is named in a child arrangements order as the person that the child should live with is granted parental responsibility
  • If the father is named in a child arrangements order as someone that the child should have contact with and the court determines that it would be logical to grant him parental responsibility in light of this

Can fathers take their children on holiday during a divorce?

Where both parents have parental responsibility, then neither can take the child abroad without the consent of the other or a court order allowing it- without this it is a criminal offence. However, if one parent has a Child Arrangements Order, then they can take the child abroad for up to a month without the consent of the other parents with parental responsibility. For further information can be found here.

Fathers for justice

Fathers for Justice was a family law pressure group which chose to highlight issues for fathers through high profile stunts. Though some more extreme actions and members saw the group become discredited, their protest had a noticeable impact on family law.

Since the group became active, there has been increased scrutiny and transparency in the family courts, and successive governments have worked to promote greater support for fathers in the family law system.

Vardags is one of the UKs top divorce law firms. We specialise in complex, high net worth and international cases. The Legal 500 has said of Vardags lawyers : The team is noted for its sheer intellect.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.


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Founder & President Ayesha Vardag Founder & President Divorce & Family
“Ayesha Vardag - Britain's top divorce lawyer.” 
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Chief Executive Officer Stephen Bence Vardags CEO
“Dr Stephen Bence is a financial genius.” 
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Senior Partner - Divorce & Family David Lister
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