Unmarried fathers rights

Unmarried fathers in the England and Wales parental rights in separation changed in 2003 when the legal status of “Parental Responsibility” was automatically given to any father whose name appeared on the birth certificate of any child born on or after 1st December 2003. Therefore, whether or not you have Parental Responsibility as an unmarried father depends on whether your child was born on, after or before 1st December 2003, and whether your name appears on the child’s birth certificate. This table summarises the options:



Which unmarried fathers have “Parental Responsibility”?

Does your name appear on the birth certfiicate? Yes      No   
Child born before 1st December 2003 No No
Child born on or after 1st December 2003 Yes No

Having Parental Responsibility for a child means that in law, you have the same rights as any other parent. You should be recognised by courts, schools, hospitals and any other public institution as a legal parent. It is the baseline of legal recognition.

If you don’t have Parental Responsibility for your child and you want to get it, there are two routes: Either you can sign a Parental Responsibilty Agreement with the child’s mother, if she agrees to, or you can ask a court to issue a Parental Responsibility Order.

There are some differences in respect of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Births registered in Scotland

A father has parental responsibility if he’s married to the mother when the child is conceived, or marries her at any point afterwards.

An unmarried father has parental responsibility if he’s named on the child’s birth certificate (from 4 May 2006).

Births registered in Northern Ireland

A father has parental responsibility if he’s married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth.

If a father marries the mother after the child’s birth, he has parental responsibility if he lives in Northern Ireland at the time of the marriage.

An unmarried father has parental responsibility if he’s named, or becomes named, on the child’s birth certificate (from 15 April 2002).

Births registered outside the UK

If a child is born overseas and comes to live in the UK, parental responsibility depends on the UK country they’re now living in.

Further reading:

How do I get Parental Responsibility?

About the author

Clare Kirby qualified as a lawyer in 1983 and worked for several years in industry. She founded Kirby & Co in 1997. As a member of Resolution and an advanced member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel she is experienced and respected in the field of family law. Trained as a collaborative lawyer, Clare offers clients a range of options - traditional, and collaborative law - to best meet the needs of the individual clients.


Updated: September 2017

Hide comments (24)


  • Guest
    Chandra Tuesday, 10 April 2018


    My son born out of wedlock. 2004 July. His father has parental responsibility [

  • Guest
    Jax Wednesday, 22 August 2018


    Hi looking for some advice my son split from his partner 18 months ago, we have had access to kids for all of this time. We get them sat, sun ,mon,Tues one week and next week we get them sat, sun, mon, tues,Wed, now his ex wants to change access days but this will upset children who are used to this routine. My son works full time and his ex hasn't ever worked. Thank you

  • Guest
    Andy Friday, 14 September 2018

    a piece of legislation/ law that says it is the mother's responsibility to drop the children off and collect them from there visits/ stay overs.

    Advice required. Father of 2. One of my friends has told me that there is a piece of legislation/ law that says it is the mother's responsibility to drop the children off and collect them from there visits/ stay overs. My Ex has since had a child with her new partner, so being considerate to her circumstances, I have been doing the ferrying of the children between the 2 residences. This is approx. an hours drive each way. Should I be entitled to a reduction in the child maintenance payments to help cover these costs (approx. £100 a month on fuel)?

    I have no problem in my financial obligations to the children, but like most separated fathers, £100 a month is a significant expense

  • Guest
    phil Wednesday, 16 January 2019


    hi I have a daughter she is 15 this year I pay maintenance she lives with her mother , she is with me about twice a week [mostly weekends] or when she wants , she is playing truant from school , her mother tell me if she doesn't go to school it will be me that is find ,we are not married and I am on the birth certificate can you tell tell me if that is correct

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Guest Sunday, 31 May 2020

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