Mothers and The Law – For All Parents from Jefferies

Posted on March 15, 2019
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With Mother’s Day fast approaching, it’s the ideal time to reflect on the rights of mothers and their responsibilities according to the law of the land. However, whether it’s Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, each parent has equal rights, provided they both have parental responsibility. At Jefferies, we want to make sure you are informed with all of the relevant information you need, ensuring the focus remains on what is in the best interests of your child. Read on for some of the most frequently asked questions and answers about parental responsibility.

What is parental responsibility?

By definition under the Children Act 1989, parental responsibility (PR) is “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 outlines the legal rights and decisions a parent can make about a child’s upbringing. These decisions can be about education, medical treatment, religious upbringing and whether or not a child can travel abroad. However, this does not necessarily include decisions about which parent a child lives with and who he or she spends time with.

Do birth mothers have more rights to the child than fathers?

A child’s biological mother will always have automatic parental responsibility of the child from its birth, however this is not always the case for fathers. There may also be certain circumstances, which result in the Mother losing her PR.

Unmarried fathers are not automatically presumed to be biologically-related to the child, a father will only be granted parental responsibility if he was married to the mother when the child was born, is named on the birth certificate or if he marries her subsequently to the child’s birth.

How do unmarried fathers gain parental responsibility?

Due to changes introduced on 1 December 2003, fathers who are not married to the mother when their child is born can still gain automatic parental responsibility if they are registered on the child’s birth certificate. So, if an unmarried father would like to establish his paternity, the best way to do so is to register his name on the child’s birth certificate at the start. However, this change does not apply retrospectively to those births registered before December 2003, and therefore a re-registration of birth must be considered.

In cases where the father is unable to establish his paternity on the birth certificate, he can issue an application to the court. Alternatively, mothers and fathers can also enter into a “parental responsibility agreement”, in order to grant the non-parent PR for the child

Do English courts always favour the mother?

Ultimately, the court has the power to decide how people exercise their PR and to what extent they are able to exercise it. However, over time, there has been a shift in the trend for fathers to have the same rights as mothers. The courts take the view that it will be in the child’s best interest to have both parents involved in their life, and so are moving towards making shared living arrangements order, upon separation, unless there are good reasons not to do so.

The Children Act 1989, states that the welfare of the child is the “paramount consideration” in any given case, concerning the arrangements of children. This essentially means that when deciding who the child will live with and how much contact the child will have with the non-resident parent, the Court will consider what is in the bests interests of the child. The facts of each individual case will of course have an overall bearing on any orders made by the Court.  The UK Legal system is therefore, moving away from favouring Mothers over Fathers and instead will do what is best for the child.

If you are in a position where you are struggling to reach an agreement with your ex-partner in respect of the children, you should get in touch with an expert solicitor as soon as possible.

What about same-sex parents & parental responsibility?

There are many different family structures and ways of having a child together in a same-sex relationship. Today, a second female parent is presented with the same opportunities and barriers as a father would be, so much of the above still applies.

Essentially, a second female parent has automatic PR if she is in a civil partnership with or married to the mother at the time of the child’s conception. This includes conception by artificial insemination. Matters can however become difficult if the male donor is known to the couple and expresses a wish to have PR for the children.

If you are a second mother and you’re not married or a civil partnership, you can gain parental responsibility by applying to the family court for a child arrangements order, stating that the child lives with you or with you and your partner. If you have been living with your partner’s child for a period of 3 years, you will automatically be able to make an application for the child.

Civil partners and married couples can also adopt a child together as a couple. So if you need advice or guidance on how to apply for a court order, or guidance on the best route to adoption, get in touch with one of our Family solicitors, today.

What about step-parents & non-biological parents?

 Step-parents and non-biological partners do not automatically have PR of the child. However, the partner may be able to obtain this by entering into a PR agreement or by requesting the court to make a PR order.

Alternatively, the partner can also make a request to formally adopt the child. As children are only legally allowed to have two parents, the legal status of a parent may be changed by the process of an Adoption Order. Our specialist adoption advocates have a wealth of experience in this field and can help and support you through the entire process.

How Jefferies can help

Issues relating to PR can be complex and sensitive. At Jefferies Solicitors, our accredited Family Law specialists can assist you in regard to many important matters concerning your children. Whether you are a parent, grandparent or Step-parent seeking advice, we can help with many issues including parental responsibility, residence and contact arrangements and much more. Contact a member of our family Solicitors now, on 01702 332 311 or contact us on


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