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What are parental rights?

Parental rights – and whether or not someone has them – often form a large part of our discussions with worried parents. When a relationship breaks down, child arrangements, including who the child will live with and how often they will see the other parent, are often one of the most contentious parts of the separation process.

In this article, we’ll discuss what parental rights are and explain who has them.


What are parental rights?

Whether or not someone has parental rights largely depends on whether they have parental responsibility for the child.

Having parental responsibility does not mean that you have automatic parental rights to see your child. However, what it does mean is that you should be included in any important decisions about their life.

Mothers automatically acquire parental responsibility at the moment of birth. Most fathers have parental responsibility. We will go into more detail about this below.

parental rights


Are parental rights the same as custody?

As we touched on above, having parental rights alone, does not mean that you have a right to see and spend time with your child.

Child arrangements, which include who the child will live with (previously known as custody) and how often they will see the other parent, are something that a separating couple can agree on between themselves. If this is not possible, help can be sought in the form of mediation, for example. If an agreement still cannot be reached, you will need to apply for a court order.

Those who have parental rights (i.e. parental responsibility) can apply for a court order. Those who don’t have parental rights, will need to get permission from the courts before applying for a court order.


What parental rights does a father have?

It is worth reiterating here that parental rights largely depend on whether a father has parental responsibility.

Usually, fathers have parental responsibility if they are either:

• named on the birth certificate (after 1 December 2003 in England and Wales)
• married to the mother of the child

As well as having a say in decisions regarding the child, parental rights for fathers with parental responsibility also include the right to apply for a court order, if an agreement cannot be reached regarding child arrangements.

A lack of parental responsibility does not necessarily make these things impossible, but the process can take much longer.


What parental rights does an unmarried father have?

Parental rights for unmarried fathers depend on whether or not they are on the birth certificate of the child. If you are not listed on the birth certificate (see above), it is possible to obtain parental responsibility by either:

• Getting agreement from the mother or
• Obtaining a parental responsibility order from a court


Can parental rights be terminated?

Parental rights are largely dependent upon parental responsibility. It may be possible to apply to the court to remove parental responsibility from someone. Removing someone’s parental rights is a highly complex process. The court would only remove parental rights in exceptional circumstances, such as if it was necessary for the protection of the child.

If you are unsure of your parental rights or want to discuss how to enforce your parental rights to get contact with your child, seek legal advice from a specialist solicitor, such as Austin Kemp.


How can our expert divorce solicitors help you with the parental responsibility options?

Our expert family law solicitors can help you with a range of legal issues relating to parental responsibility, including:


Contact our expert divorce solicitors for advice on parental responsibility

For more information call our divorce solicitors on 0845 862 5001 or email

Our expert family law solicitors offer a nationwide service. We have client meeting office facilities available, in order to have face-to-face client meetings / conferences as and when required in:

Leeds Office: St Andrew House, The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 5JW

Wakefield Office: Market Walk, Wakefield, WF1 1QR

Halifax Office: Old Lane, Halifax, HX3 5WP

Huddersfield Office: Northumberland Street Huddersfield, HD1 1RL

Coventry Office: Warwick Road, Coventry, CV1 2DY

Canary Wharf Office: 25 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5LB

Please contact us for more details.

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11th March 2020

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