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As family structures become increasingly complex, understanding the rights and responsibilities of each person involved in a child’s upbringing can be difficult.

At Howells Solicitors, we have a specialist child care department dedicated to ensuring that each of these individuals receives the advice and support they need to ensure their interests are fairly represented. This week, we take a look at the difference between biological and legal fathers, and highlight the rights and responsibilities of each.

Legal Father Vs Biological Father

The male parent of a child is known as their father. A man can become a father either as a result of impregnating a woman (a biological father) or by gaining parental responsibility (a legal father).

The biological father of a child is the person whose genetic material the child inherited, either as a result of natural conception or sperm donation. A child’s biological father is not automatically considered its legal father, and does not automatically have parental responsibility.

Biological fathers have parental responsibility if:

  • They are married to the child’s mother at the time of the child's birth or they marry the child’s mother after the birth; or
  • They are registered as the child's father on the birth certificate if the registration took place after 1st December 2003; or 
  • The mother and father have both signed an authorised agreement giving the father parental responsibility; or
  • A Court order gives them parental responsibility.

More than two people can have parental responsibility for a child. For more information on parental responsibility, please watch the following video which sees family law expert Karis Wookey answering common queries regarding custody and childcare.


What rights do fathers have?

A child’s biological father has no legal rights towards them unless they have parental responsibility. However, parental responsibility does not affect the duty a parent has to maintain their child financially. All parents have a duty to pay towards their child’s upbringing, whether or not they have parental responsibility.

A father with parental responsibility for a child has the right to make decisions about their care and upbringing, and important decisions regarding the child must be agreed by all those with parental responsibility.

If those with parental responsibility cannot agree on specific issues relating to a child’s upbringing, a ‘specific issue order’ or a ‘prohibited steps order’ can be applied for in Court.

Child custody – a father’s rights

It is important to note that those with parental responsibility do not automatically have the right to contact with or custody of a child. Child access rights are a separate issue, and if an agreement between parents cannot be made outside of court, can be awarded by applying for a ‘child arrangements order’.

Either of a child’s biological parents can apply for this type of court order, as well as anyone else with parental responsibility.

Gaining parental responsibility

There are two ways for a biological father to gain parental responsibility, either by agreement with the child’s mother signing a parental responsibility agreement, or, if an agreement cannot be reached, by applying for a court order.

Where paternity is an issue, the court can direct the use of scientific tests to establish it. If you think that you need to ask to court to decide the issue of paternity, you should seek further advice from one of our team of experienced and sensitive childcare solicitors. Call us on 0808 178 2773 to discuss how we can help you.

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