Parenting – Rights and Responsibilities


In this section, you can learn about the legal status of parenting in the UK, what parental responsibility means and what the law says about caring for children.

So who has parental responsibility in the UK?

A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth. A father usually has parental responsibility if he’s either:

  • Married to the child’s mother

  • Listed on the birth certificate (after a certain date, depending on which part of the UK the child was born in)

You can apply for parental responsibility if you do not automatically have it.

Births registered in England and Wales

If the parents of a child are married when the child is born, or if they’ve jointly adopted a child, both have parental responsibility.

They both keep parental responsibility if they later divorce.

Unmarried parents

An unmarried father can get parental responsibility for his child in 1 of 3 ways:

  • Jointly registering the birth of the child with the mother (from 1 December 2003)

  • Getting a parental responsibility agreement with the mother

  • Getting a parental responsibility order from a court


Same-sex civil partners


Same-sex partners will both have parental responsibility if they were civil partners at the time of the treatment, e.g. donor insemination or fertility treatment.

Same-sex non-civil partners


For same-sex partners who are not civil partners, the 2nd parent can get parental responsibility by either:

  • applying for parental responsibility if a parental agreement was made or

  • becoming a civil partner of the other parent and making a parental responsibility agreement or

  • jointly registering the birth.

Your responsibility as a parent

All mothers and most fathers have legal rights and responsibilities as a parent - known as parental responsibility.


If you have parental responsibility, your most important roles are to:

  • Provide a home for the child

  • Protect and maintain the child


You’re also responsible for:

  • Disciplining the child

  • Choosing and providing for the child’s education

  • Agreeing to the child’s medical treatment

  • Naming the child and agreeing to any change of name

  • Looking after the child’s property

Parents have to ensure that their child is supported financially, whether they have parental responsibility or not.

Remember that both parents are legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up their child/children. If you split up, and you’re the parent who doesn’t have the main day-to-day care of the children, you may have to pay money to the person looking after the child/children. This is called child maintenance. Sometimes it's also called child support.

Child maintenance usually takes the form of regular financial payments towards the child's everyday living costs. Depending on your circumstances, you can either arrange this yourselves or use a government scheme. If your situation is complicated, you may need to get a court order.


This page tells you more about the choices you have and where to get more help.

You can arrange child maintenance in the following ways:

  • A family-based child maintenance arrangement (this is agreed between parents)

  • A government scheme (you have to pay a fee for this)

  • A court order (this is where there are problems agreeing maintenance and a court makes one parent pay)

IMPORTANT – Child maintenance won't affect any benefits you may receive.


WHEN YOU BECOME A PARENT YOU HAVE RIGHTS – You automatically get certain rights as a parent, these are different depending on certain factors and whether you are the mother or father.
YOU ALSO HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES, THIS IS TRUE FOR BOTH PARENTS – You have certain responsibilities as a parent, this includes making sure your child is financially looked after. This is true for both parents. 
PARENTING ISN’T EASY AND THERE IS HELP AVAILABLE – It doesn’t matter who you are or when you become a parent, it's going to be difficult. Parenting isn’t easy and everyone needs help and advice from time to time. 
THERE IS HELP – Help is available that can support you as a parent, make sure you ask for help if you need it. Asking for help isn’t a bad thing and it doesn’t mean you have ‘failed’ as a parent, everyone needs help from time to time.