Parental Rights

Parental Rights
Parental Rights
Full Overview Of Parental Rights

At DLS Solicitors, we understand that parental rights are a cornerstone of family law, embodying the legal entitlements and responsibilities that parents hold regarding their children. This extensive overview aims to provide a detailed understanding of parental rights, covering their definition, the legal framework, practical applications, and the processes involved in asserting and safeguarding these rights.

What are Parental Rights?

Parental rights are the legal entitlements that parents have in relation to their children. These rights encompass various aspects, such as the right to make decisions about a child’s education, healthcare, religious upbringing, and the right to spend time with and care for the child. Parental rights are closely linked with parental responsibility, which refers to parents’ duties and obligations towards their children.

The primary legislation governing parental rights in England and Wales is the Children Act 1989. This Act emphasises that the child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration in any proceedings concerning the child’s upbringing. The Act outlines parental responsibility and how it can be acquired, exercised, and restricted.

Who Has Parental Rights?

Automatically, mothers have parental responsibility and, thus, parental rights. Fathers also have these rights if they are married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or if they are listed on the birth certificate (for births registered after 1 December 2003). Unmarried fathers not listed on the birth certificate, step-parents, civil partners, and others with a significant role in the child’s life may acquire parental rights through various legal mechanisms.

Acquiring Parental Rights

For Unmarried Fathers

Unmarried fathers can acquire parental rights by:

  • Being registered on the child’s birth certificate (for births registered after 1 December 2003).
  • Entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the child’s mother.
  • Obtaining a parental responsibility order from the court.
  • Marrying the child’s mother.

For Step-Parents and Civil Partners

Step-parents and civil partners can acquire parental rights through:

  • Parental Responsibility Agreement: A legal agreement with the child’s mother (and father if he has parental responsibility).
  • Parental Responsibility Order: An application to the court for an order granting parental responsibility.
  • Adoption: This process permanently transfers all parental rights and responsibilities from the birth parents to the adoptive parents.

For Guardians

Guardians can be appointed to acquire parental rights upon the death of a parent with parental responsibility. This can be arranged through a will or by a court order.

Exercising Parental Rights

Parental rights involve making significant decisions about a child’s life, including:

  • Education: deciding which school the child will attend, consenting to educational assessments, and involvement in school-related activities.
  • Healthcare: consenting to medical treatments and decisions about the child’s health and wellbeing.
  • Religious Upbringing: Determining the child’s religious education and practices.
  • Name Changes: Agreeing to changes in the child’s name.
  • Travel: applying for a passport and consenting to travel arrangements.

Limitations and Restrictions

While parental rights are extensive, they are not absolute. If necessary, the court can intervene and restrict these rights for the child’s welfare. Such restrictions can take the form of:

  • Specific Issue Orders: Determining particular aspects of parental responsibility, such as schooling or medical treatment.
  • Prohibited Steps Orders: Preventing a parent from taking certain actions, such as removing the child from the country.

Disputes Over Parental Rights

Disputes over parental rights are not uncommon, particularly in cases of separation or divorce. These disputes may involve disagreements over living arrangements, education, or medical care. The resolution of such disputes typically involves:


Mediation is often the first step in resolving disputes over parental rights. It provides a platform for parents to discuss their concerns and reach an agreement with the help of a neutral third party. The court encourages mediation and makes it mandatory in many cases before legal proceedings can commence, except in instances involving domestic abuse or urgency.

Court Proceedings

If mediation fails, parents can apply to the court for a resolution. The court’s primary concern is the child’s welfare, and it will consider various factors, including:

  • The child’s wishes and feelings (considered in light of their age and understanding).
  • The child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs.
  • The likely effect of any change in the child’s circumstances.
  • The child’s age, sex, background, and characteristics the court considers relevant.
  • Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
  • The capability of each parent to meet the child’s needs.

Parental Rights and Child Arrangements

In cases of separation or divorce, the arrangements for the child’s living and contact with each parent are crucial aspects of parental rights. These arrangements are typically formalised through a Child Arrangements Order (CAO), which can specify:

  • With whom the child is to live (residence).
  • With whom is the child to spend time or otherwise have contact (contact)?

Types of Child Arrangements Orders

Residence Orders

A residence order determines where the child will live. It can be made in favour of one parent (sole residence) or both parents (shared residence). Shared residence does not necessarily mean equal time with each parent but indicates that the child will spend substantial time with both.

Contact Orders

A contact order specifies the arrangements for the child to spend time with the parent they do not live with. This can include:

  • Direct contact: Face-to-face meetings, overnight stays, weekends, holidays, etc.
  • Indirect contact: Phone calls, letters, emails, and other forms of communication.

Enforcement of Parental Rights

If a parent with parental responsibility is being denied their rights, they can seek enforcement through the court. This might involve applying for enforcement of a Child Arrangements Order if the other parent is not complying with the agreed-upon or ordered arrangements.

Parental Rights and International Relocation

International relocation cases involve a parent wishing to move abroad with their child. Given the significant impact on the child’s relationship with the non-relocating parent, these cases can be highly contentious. The court considers various factors, including:

  • The reason for the move.
  • The impact on the child’s relationship with the other parent.
  • The child’s welfare and best interests.

Parental Rights of Non-Biological Parents

Non-biological parents, such as step-parents, civil partners, and same-sex partners, can acquire parental rights through legal mechanisms like parental responsibility agreements, orders, or adoption. The legal recognition of these rights ensures that non-biological parents can play an active and authoritative role in the child’s upbringing.


Parental rights are a fundamental aspect of family law, encompassing parents’ legal entitlements and responsibilities regarding their children. At DLS Solicitors, we recognise the importance of understanding and navigating the legal framework surrounding parental rights. Our dedicated team is here to provide expert guidance and support, helping clients achieve the best outcomes for their families.

Whether you seek to acquire parental rights, deal with disputes over parental arrangements, or navigate the complexities of international relocation, our experienced solicitors are ready to assist. We are committed to protecting the welfare of children and ensuring that their best interests are always at the forefront of any legal decisions. If you require further information or legal assistance regarding parental rights, please contact us at DLS Solicitors.

By providing this comprehensive overview, we hope to demystify the concept of parental rights and offer practical insights into how these rights can be acquired, exercised, and protected. At DLS Solicitors, we support you through every step of the process, ensuring you are well-informed and confident in asserting your parental rights.

Parental Rights FAQ'S

Parental rights refer to the legal rights and responsibilities that parents have concerning their child’s upbringing, welfare, and decision-making. These include rights to make decisions about education, health care, and religious upbringing.

In the UK, mothers automatically have parental rights. Fathers have parental rights if they are married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or if they are listed on the birth certificate (for children born after December 1, 2003). Unmarried fathers can also acquire parental rights through a parental responsibility agreement or court order.

A father not on the birth certificate can obtain parental rights by signing a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother or by applying to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order.

Yes, parental rights can be removed or limited by the court if it is in the child’s best interests. This can happen in cases of abuse, neglect, or when a parent is deemed unfit to care for the child.

Parental rights remain intact after divorce or separation. Both parents continue to have parental rights and responsibilities unless a court order specifies otherwise. The court can issue orders regarding child arrangements, but parental responsibility is not automatically affected by marital status changes.

Grandparents do not automatically have parental rights. They can apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order to obtain certain rights and responsibilities regarding their grandchildren.

Parental rights encompass the legal entitlements parents have concerning their children, while parental responsibility refers to the duties and obligations parents have to care for and make decisions about their children’s welfare. Parental responsibility is a legal status that grants parental rights.

Yes, a non-biological parent, such as a stepparent, can obtain parental responsibility through a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the consent of all parties with parental responsibility or by applying to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order.

Parents with parental responsibility have the right to make decisions about their child’s education, including choosing schools, consenting to special education needs (SEN) assessments, and participating in school meetings and decisions about their child’s educational progress.


Parents with parental responsibility have the right to make medical decisions for their child, including consenting to medical treatments, accessing medical records, and making decisions about the child’s healthcare and medical interventions. In cases of disagreement, the court can intervene to decide in the child’s best interests.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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