Parental responsibility and the effects of divorce or separation

9th March 2015 by


When a couple with children makes the decision to separate or get divorced there will be many issues to take into consideration. For many couples, it will be the mother who takes the main role of responsibility in looking after the children, and the laws regarding who has parental responsibility are very clear.

If arrangements for children are contested between the separating parents then the advice of an experienced family law solicitor in London, Brighton or elsewhere in the UK would be highly advisable to avoid prolonged or unnecessarily hostile proceedings.

What is parental responsibility?

English and Welsh family law statutes do not give a legally definitive explanation of parental responsibility for children of a partnership, but the key roles of the person or persons with parental responsibility would be expected to include the following:

  • The provision of a home or homes for the child;
  • Having contact with and/or living with the child;
  • Protecting and maintaining the child;
  • Providing discipline for the child;
  • Choosing and providing for the child’s education;
  • Agreeing the child’s religion; and
  • Agreeing on medical treatment for the child.

Those persons with parental responsibility will also be obligated in the following:

  • The naming of and agreeing on any name change for the child;
  • Accompanying the child when outside the UK;
  • Agreeing or disagreeing to emigration of the child, should the issue arise;
  • Being responsible for the child’s property;
  • Appointing, if necessary, a guardian for the child; and
  • The disclosure of confidential information about the child.

Who has parental responsibility?

According to The Children Act 1989, a mother always has parental responsibility for her child. If the parents are married or the couple has jointly adopted the child, the father will have the same parental responsibility as the mother and this continues after divorce.

If the parents are unmarried the father may not have parental responsibility unless he has acquired legal responsibility by one of the following means:

  • By jointly registering the birth of the child with the mother (for births registered after 1st December 2003 only – unmarried fathers can re-register their children if their names are not on the birth certificate before this date);
  • By marrying the mother at a later date;
  • By entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother;
  • By obtaining a parental responsibility order from a court;
  • By receiving a residence order from the court; or
  • By becoming the child’s guardian.

A grandparent, step-parent or civil partner can obtain parental responsibility by being appointed as a guardian in the event of the parents’ death; by the awarding of a residence order from the court so that the child may live with them, or by formally adopting the child.

Applying for parental responsibility

Without parental responsibility an adult cannot make decisions about a child’s life. If a father or significant adult to a child does not have parental responsibility, but feels he or she wants the recognition, authority and stability it brings, especially if the other parent has no contact, is unknown, is abroad or has died, an application can be made to the court to gain a parental responsibility order.

When considering whether to accept an application, the court will take the following into account:

  • The degree of commitment shown to the child by the applicant;
  • The degree of attachment demonstrated between the applicant and the child; and
  • The applicant’s reasons for applying for the order.

Legal advice on children’s issues after divorce

Whatever your legal queries regarding children’s issues in divorce, Healys’ experienced and sensitive family law solicitors in London and Brighton have the expertise to help.

Our divorce solicitors are part of a full service law firm and have the benefit of being able to draw on the considerable skills and knowledge of colleagues in other departments on complex issues arising out of family breakdown. This enables us to provide you with full and comprehensive advice on all aspects of the law relating to children.

For more information on the service we provide, please contact Catherine Taylor on 01273 669 124 or email for Brighton. For London please contact Jane Sanders on 020 7822 4107 or email