Written by Michelle Saxton

Michelle is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, specialising in all ares of family law including divorce, separation, civil partnerships, ancillary relief, Children Act matters and domestic violence.

Are you an unmarried father? Have you separated from the mother of your children and wonder where you stand legally with regard to them? The first thing we need to ascertain is whether you have parental responsibility (PR) in respect of the child.

What is parental responsibility?

PR is the legal rights and responsibilities you have for your children as a parent.

A mother automatically has PR. A father has PR if he is married to the children’s mother or is named on the child’s birth certificate (you may like to read this article on the law relating to unmarried couples).

Your legal rights and duties as a parent with PR are, but are not limited to:

  • providing a home for the children;
  • protecting and maintaining the children;
  • disciplining the children;
  • choosing and providing for the children’s education;
  • agreeing to the children’s medical treatment;
  • naming the children and agreeing to any change of name;
  • looking after the children’s property.

How do I get parental responsibility?

If you do not have PR, you can obtain this by:

  • entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother;
  • applying to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order;
  • jointly registering the child’s birth.

We would always advise you to try and reach agreement with the mother of your child. This can be done by way of us writing to the mother or through mediation.

However, we appreciate that this is not always possible.

Court proceedings

Court proceedings should be used as a last resort, not only because it is costly but also because it can be quite stressful to all parties.

If an application to the court is made, Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) will carry out safeguarding checks on both you and your former partner. This will be for things like any past or current involvement with social services or the police. If no safeguarding concerns are raised, Cafcass should have no further involvement other than to inform the court what they consider is in the child’s best interests.

A Cafcass Officer will act in the best interests of the child and work with the child and both parents. If there are safeguarding issues, Cafcass are likely to suggest they carry out further investigations in your case and provide a report to the court on their recommendations. Cafcass Officers are not the enemy. You should fully cooperate with them in order for them to complete their report. 

First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA)

The first hearing dispute resolution appointment (FHDRA) will be heard before a District Judge, legal advisor or Magistrates. It will be heard in private with no other parties allowed in the courtroom other than you, your former partner and your legal advisors. Prior to going into court, negotiations will take place between solicitors acting on your behalf. If an agreement can be reached, an order will be drafted by either solicitor, be agreed with the other party and handed in to court. This will be approved by the court.

If there are no other issues to deal with, this will be a final order and there will be no need to go back to court. If, however, agreement cannot be reached, directions would need to be agreed as to the next steps. This could be giving dates for a Cafcass report to be filed, dates for statements to be filed by you, your former partner and any witnesses with a return date to court. It may be that the matter is set down for a final contested hearing for the District Judge/ Magistrates to make a decision. The matter could still be agreed by consent at anytime.

Once an order is made in respect of PR, it does not mean that you can interfere in the day-to-day upbringing of the child even though the order gives you the same legal rights as the child’s mother.

Taking the child out of the UK

If you or your ex-partner wishes to take the child out of the country on holiday, where there is a Child Arrangements Order in force saying where the child should live, you may do so for up to 4 weeks at a time without the other parties’ consent. However, if there is no Child Arrangements Order in place the mother will need to seek the consent of all the parties with PR before she can take the child out of the country.

If the mother requires your consent a simple letter should suffice. It is unlikely that a court would deny the chance of a child going on holiday unless there are real concerns for the child’s well-being.

If you or your ex-partner wish to take the child on holiday and consent is not given, the party who wishes to take the child on holiday can apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order for the court to grant permission.

Additional Reading/Resources

If you are facing court alone many people have found Lucy Reed’s book, ‘Family Court Without A Lawyer’ particularly useful.

You may also find our page on How To Tell Your Children You Are Divorcing – Recommended Books useful.

The Handover Book by Ashley Palmer is a unique and simple communication book for separated families. It will allow them both to always be aware of what is happening in their children’s busy lives as they go from one household to another. It’s a way of communicating the important things they both need to know about their children, while keeping your relationship as parents friendly and calm.

Charlotte Friedman has written Breaking Upwards – How To Manage The Emotional Impact Of Separation. Charlotte offers calm, therapeutic advice on everything from how to manage loneliness to letting go of grievance, and draws on illuminating case studies to answer questions such as:  How long before I get over this divorce? How do I tell the children?  How do I cope with the new partner in my ex’s life?





    Did you find this useful?

    Thanks for your feedback. :)

    Can you tell me which of the following applies to you:


    Anything else to add?

    Do you need to talk to a legal professional?

    All of our Family Law Panel members are experienced and qualified, many of them specialise in areas such as finance, children and domestic abuse. All offer a range of pricing options. You can find them here......

    Read More >