Fathers rights to see their children. Law in the UK

What does UK law say about fathers rights to see their children when parents separate? What rights do you and your child have? Is the law, or are the courts, biased against dads? We look at your legal position if you're separating.

Fathers Rights in the UK

Fathers rights - indeed, parental rights - do not really exist in UK law. Instead, the law refers to parental responsibilities. Parental Responsibility (PR, or Parental Responsibilities and Rights (PPR) in Scotland) is a legal status that means that you have a duty to care for and protect your child.

Fathers rights to see their children are not set out in UK law as such, but depend on a number of factors, or which Parental Responsibility is just one. Having said that, PR (or PPR) gives you the right to contribute to decision making regarding your child's future such as:

  • giving consent to medical treatment
  • choosing their school
  • deciding how they should be brought up
  • choosing their name
  • choosing their religion


Often the innocent victims of family breakdowns are children and it can be a worrying and distressing time for all parties concerned.

Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility is the rights, duties, powers and responsibilities that a parent has over a child. Parental responsibility entitles the parent to become involved in decisions concerning a child's schooling, religion and medical treatment. All mother's automatically have parental responsibility however it is a different case for fathers who will only automatically have parental responsibility in the following cases:

  1.  If he is married to the child's mother, even if the marriage is after the child's birth.

  2.  If he jointly registers the child's birth with the mother and the child is born on or after  December 1st 2003.

  3.  If the mother agrees that the father should have Parental Responsibility and a parental responsibility agreement is filed at Court.

  4.  If the court orders that the father should have Parental Responsibility. This is typically the case if the mother does not agree to the father having Parental Responsibility.

  5. If the father has a Residence order in his favour.


If parents cannot reach an agreement then either can make a free standing application to the Court pursuant to the Children Act 1989 for a Residence Order determining where the children will live on a permanent basis. Where a judge is faced with any decision concerning a child the child's welfare will always be the Court's paramount consideration. In determining what is in the child's best interest the Judge will have regard to the following factors:

  1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned. This is not done directly, but through the Court's welfare officers, who are called CAFCASS officers. The CAFCASS officer will speak to both parents outside of Court and also to the child, if the child is old enough. The CAFCASS officer is also likely to arrange to see the child in the presence of both parents. Once the CAFCASS officer has spoken to everyone they will prepare a report, which will recommend what contact is suitable. A major disadvantage to going to Court is that it can be a long process, as it can take up to four months for CAFCASS alone to complete their investigations. The child's wishes do not necessarily take precedence and much depends on the age of the children;

  2. The child's physical, emotional and educational needs. The Court will consider how the parents can provide for your children's physical emotional and educational needs taking into account your current work commitments;

  3. The likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances. This factor really refers to the "status quo" and what the children are used to, i.e. who makes their breakfast, baths them, takes them to school etc;

  4. The child's age, sex, background and any characteristics that the Court considers relevant;

  5.  Any harm that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;

  6.  How capable each of the child's parents are of meeting the children's needs. This is where the Court would consider to what extent work commitments would affect a parents ability to care for the children.


It is generally the Courts view that it is in the child's best interest to have contact with the absent parent and there are various ways that we can help if contact is being refused or you are concerned about the contact that your child is having. Court is not always necessary and sometimes a formal letter to the other parent can resolve the situation however if this is appropriate then a Contact Order can be applied for. The Court will, as with a Residence Order (see above), consider that the child's welfare is paramount. They will also look at the same factors as a Residence Order. There is no legal obligation for an absent parent to have contact with their child.

Child Maintenance

Child maintenance is a payment made by the parent who does not have main day to day care of your child to the parent who has main day to day care. You can reach an agreement between yourselves or alternatively you can use the Child Support Agency (CSA). A comprehensive guide relating to child maintenance can be found at: www.csa.gov.uk/en/PDF/leaflets/new/CSL303.pdf

Please call on 01234 854055 or email on internationallawconnect@gmail.com for initial free advice or alternatively to book an initial free appointment. 

Manage your relationship with your ex

Each year an estimated 240,000 children in the UK experience the separation of their parents. Overall, more than one in three children will see their parents split up before they reach their 16thbirthday.

Your relationship may have ended but your role as parents has not. It can be helpful, especially in the early stages of separation, to behave with a business-like attitude. Avoid conversations that encourage conflict.

Don't spend time and energy trying to control your ex or the situation. Just be the best parent you can and support your children.

Try to address issues instead of hanging on to anger and hurt. Moving forward is important for you and your children. If you struggle to do so, find some help.

Whatever your feelings about your ex-partner, talk to them respectfully as the parent of your children. When discussing issues, avoid blame.

Practice restraint and avoid reacting when angry. Listen to each other's opinions and ideas before responding.

Instead of springing a discussion on your ex, let them know beforehand that you want to discuss something. Ask to arrange a time that is mutually convenient.

Avoid using handovers as a time to discuss issues with your ex.It may be best to phone or send an email or ask to arrange a time to talk.

Do not have heated arguments in front of your children. Consider the best times for phone conversations and make sure children cannot hear them.

Follow up agreements or details of conversations in writing. A written follow up can minimise misunderstandings about what was said or agreed.