Legal Guides

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Rights of fathers in child custody arrangements

Child custody arrangements can be difficult to sort out, with emotions running high between ex-partners. Here, we briefly explore the parental rights for fathers and their responsibilities with regard to any children following the breakdown of a relationship.

Child custody arrangements determine who is given responsibility for looking after the children. In a high percentage of cases, custody is awarded to the mother. However, provided that a father is deemed to have parental responsibility, this should ensure that he remains involved in important decisions regarding his child or children.

Parental responsibility

If you have parental responsibility, your voice counts with regard to the way in which your children are brought up, even if they are not living with you.

Decisions on day-to-day matters usually fall to the parent with custody, commonly the mother. However, the children’s father must be consulted over key decisions such as:

  • changing schools
  • serious medical matters
  • holidays with others or organisations
  • religion
  • marriage
  • adoption
  • changing surname
  • emigration.

A mother will automatically have parental responsibility. In the case of married couples, both partners have parental responsibility for children born in wedlock.

Fathers have parental responsibility if:

  • They are married to the mother of the child.
  • They are named as the father on the birth certificate of a child born on or after 1 December 2003.
  • The birth certificate of the child originally lacked the father’s name but it was later updated to include this information.
  • They have signed a parental responsibility agreement.
  • A Justice of the Peace or magistrate at the family court has granted the father an order of residency or parental responsibility.
Applying for parental responsibility

It’s possible to apply for parental responsibility in court. The court will weigh up:

  • your commitment as a parent
  • how attached you are to your child
  • why you have applied for the order.

The judge will always act in the child’s best interests when making their decision, whilst factoring in fathers’ rights.


The term ‘custody’ is now usually named ‘residency’. This word signifies the location of the child’s main residence following the break-up of the parents’ relationship.

Factors affecting the outcome

The phrase ‘best interests of the child’ is a primary factor in making visitation and custody decisions.

The common sense themes that affect a judgement are:

  • Each parent’s role in raising the child following his or her birth.
  • The likely future outcome of each parent’s situation.
  • Concerns over the behaviour or personality of the parents.
  • The child’s preference.
Negotiating child custody

Every family situation differs when it comes to negotiating custody. By law, no parent is favoured over the other. The legislation ensures that children are entitled to the company of both parents.

Child custody types

The judge will decide on one of the following forms of custody:

  • Legal custody. This allows parents the right to make legal decisions for their children regarding matters such as schooling, medical care and religious upbringing.
  • Physical custody. This dictates with whom the child lives.
  • Sole custody. This means that one parent is granted the exclusive physical and legal custody of a child. The other parent might have rights to visit.
  • Joint custody. If a separated couple remains on amicable terms, they may opt for joint custody. This means sharing the physical and/or legal responsibility for the child.
Joint custody

Today, joint custody in the UK is also known as shared custody, shared parenting or shared residency. It is popular overseas, but take-up has been slower in this country and various organisations are trying to promote it as an option.

Joint custody enables the child to share time with both parents. In addition, joint custody ensures that each parent has the same degree of involvement in important decisions which impact the child.

If the parents cannot agree on a living arrangement, the court will make a decision in the best interests of the child and it is becoming common for courts to afford children a say as to where they want to live.

Benefits of joint custody

Joint custody benefits both parents and children:

  • Both parties carry on sharing parenting responsibility.
  • Separated fathers may see their children frequently and have increased involvement in their affairs.
  • The child has two homes, giving them greater stability and security.
  • Children continue to enjoy family life with both of their parents.
Standard contact order

With a standard contact order, one parent is given sole physical custody of the child. The other parent, generally the father, will have the child’s company on selected days.

Financial responsibilities

Although a father’s relationship with the child’s mother has finished, he is still obliged to contribute towards his child’s upbringing.

A father’s custody arrangements might require him to make child support payments. Since 2013, the Child Maintenance Service deals with any maintenance issues. Alternatively, a couple may agree upon payment arrangements among themselves.

In general terms, a father will pay 15 per cent of his net income for his first child, 20 per cent for a second and 25 per cent for three children.

Article contributed by Cordell & Cordell Family Law Solicitors

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. It is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Cordell & Cordell directly.

Published on 24th October 2019
(Last updated 7th May 2021)