Legal position relating to unborn children

This page explains the rights of father’s before the child is born as well as any Children’s Services involvement prior to the mother giving birth. 

Rights of fathers before birth

When the mother is pregnant the father does not have any rights to contact or to make decisions relating to the pregnancy.

The mother does not need the father’s consent to:

  • Terminate a pregnancy
  • Receive medical treatment
  • Travel abroad

The father does need the mother’s consent to:

  • Access medical records relating to the pregnancy
  • Attend medical appointments with the mother, even those that directly relate to the pregnancy such as scans
  • Be present at the birth or notified of the birth
  • Visit the mother and baby in the hospital after the mother has given birth

Parental responsibility

The law relating to parental responsibility can be found in s 3(1) and 3(2) of the Children Act 1989.

A father cannot have parental responsibility for a child until after it is born.

The mother automatically obtains parental responsibility on the birth of the child.

The father automatically obtains parental responsibility if he is married to the mother at the time of the birth or if he accompanies the mother to register the birth.

It is for the mother to decide whether she will allow the father to accompany her to register the birth and be named on the child’s birth certificate. There is not a legal requirement that the father’s details are included on the birth certificate even if there is no doubts about who the father is or for the child to be given the father’s surname.

If the father is not married to the mother and is not named on the birth certificate then he can make a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother or apply to court for a Parental Responsibility Order.

Even if a father does not have parental responsibility then he will still have certain legal duties towards the child, such as paying child maintenance. The father cannot avoid paying child maintenance by stating that he did not wish for the mother to continue with the pregnancy or that he would pay if the mother allowed him to have parental responsibility.

Further information can be found on our page on Parental Responsibility.

Children’s Services

Concerns about the mother

It is possible for Children’s Services to become involved with a mother before she has given birth to the child. They are able to carry out an investigation under section 47 Children Act 1989. Any investigations must be carried out in line with the Working Together to Safeguard Children guidelines. Children’s Services cannot control the mother’s actions but can monitor the situation. A Child Protection Plan can be put in place to ensure the child is not at risk from the moment that they are born.

If the mother has disclosed the name of the father to Children’s Services then they may contact him as part of the child protection process. Children’s Services can assess the mother and father separately, so if only one parent is deemed to be a potential risk then the child can be placed with the other parent.

The mother is not legally obliged to inform Children’s Services of the name of the father. If the mother does not inform Children’s Services of who the father is or refuses to share his contact details then Children’s Services are not required to try to locate him.

If the father is aware of the involvement of Children’s Services whilst the mother is pregnant then he can contact them to make them aware that he wishes to be included in the child’s life and, if there is a possibility that the child will be removed from the mother’s care when born, that he would like to be considered for the child to be placed with him. Before Children’s Services are able to work with the father or share information with him they may need to be satisfied that he is in fact the biological father and he may need to obtain parental responsibility. Further information on confirming paternity can be found in our How to Guide on Declaration of Parentage.

Both the father and Children’s Services can make any applications to the Family Court relating to the child from the day when the child is born.

Concerns about the father

If the mother has raised concerns about the father to Children’s Services before the child is born then they have the same powers to intervene and put a Child Protection Plan in place. The plan may be to prevent the mother from allowing the father to have contact with the child and supporting her to safeguard the child form the father. The mother can informally refuse to allow the father contact or apply for a Child Arrangements Order from the Family Court to formalise this.

If Children’s Services have concerns about the father before the child is born then they can only make recommendations that the mother does not have contact with him; they cannot legally prevent her from spending time with him if she wishes to. However, if the mother continues to associate with the father throughout the pregnancy this can increase Children’s Services concerns and may lead to them escalating matters after the child is born.