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How does parental responsibility work in civil partnership dissolution?

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The breakdown of a relationship is an emotional and stressful time which can be made even more difficult if you are considering what arrangements need to be made for your children in the future.

Having parental responsibility means you have rights and duties to look after your children. You can have parental responsibility even if you are not the children’s biological parent. Parental responsibility is extremely important for civil partnership dissolution because it gives you the right to contribute towards your children’s upbringing, even if they do not live with you after the dissolution is finalised.

There are several ways to acquire parental responsibility as civil partners. In some situations establishing it is easy, for example, if you gave birth to the children. In other situations it is unfortunately not so clear cut. A specialist family law solicitor can help you check your legal rights and ensure they are respected during the dissolution proceedings.

Once you have established parental responsibility, you have several options for coming to an arrangement with your former partner about their upbringing, such as family mediation or getting a court order (although most families are able to come to an arrangement out of court).

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility refers to the legal rights and responsibilities you have as a parent. If you have parental responsibility for child, your roles include but are not limited to:

  • Providing a home for the child
  • Protecting and maintaining the child
  • Choosing and providing for the child’s education
  • Agreeing to the child’s medical treatment
  • Naming the child and agreeing to any changes of name
  • Looking after the child’s property
  • Disciplining the child

Parental responsibility attempts to focus on the parent’s duties towards their child rather than the parent’s rights over the child.

Who has parental responsibility in a civil partnership?

Assessing who has parental responsibility in a civil partnership depends on a number of factors, such as whether the child was conceived via artificial insemination, adopted, or conceived via surrogacy.

The woman who gives birth will always automatically get parental responsibility

The woman who gives birth to the child will automatically have parental responsibility. She does not need to be the child’s biological mother, so if she got pregnant via a donated egg and artificial insemination or she is a surrogate for a same-sex couple, she will still have parental responsibility.

Artificial insemination

As mentioned above, in female same-sex couples, the woman who gives birth to the child will have automatic parental responsibility. In most circumstances, their civil partner will also automatically have parental responsibility.

However, it is important to note that if the child was born to a female same-sex couple via artificial insemination before 6 April 2009, then the civil partner who is not the birth mother does not automatically have equal parental responsibility. Many partners take steps to obtain parental responsibility in this instance, but if they did not then this can cause disputes during the dissolution.


Same-sex partners who adopted while they were in a civil partnership will both have parental responsibility. Only once the Adoption Order is made will parental responsibility be transferred from the legal parents to the adoptive parents.


Civil partners do not automatically get parental responsibility for a child conceived via a third party surrogate, even if they entered into a surrogacy agreement (an agreement for a woman to carry a child on a couple’s behalf). The civil partners must obtain a Parental Order or adopt the child to become their legal parents and obtain parental responsibility.

Other situations - There are other situations which could mean that an individual does not automatically have parental responsibility. This is typically due to them not being in a civil partnership with the child’s parent when they were born.

However, civil partners can acquire parental responsibility later on, for example, by making a parental responsibility agreement with the parent after entering into the civil partnership.

If you are unsure whether you have parental responsibility for your child, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your family law team, who will be happy to help you clarify your situation.

What happens if you cannot come to an agreement over parental responsibility?

Parents do not lose parental responsibility by dissolving a civil partnership as the non-resident parent is just as entitled to contribute to the child’s upbringing.

Unfortunately, disputes can still arise and if you find yourself struggling to come to an agreement with your former partner over arrangements for your children, you can turn to mediation as a way of resolving the conflict in an amicable manner.

Mediation is a method of alternative dispute resolution which focuses on opening up a dialogue between yourself and your former partner, helping you to sort out the details of your civil partnership dissolution with the guidance of a trained mediator.

If you are unable to come to an agreement through the use of mediation, you can then apply for the court to make a decision on your behalf . You will usually need to demonstrate that you have considered mediation before being allowed to apply to a court. The courts will always look to act in the best interests of the children involved in the case.

What orders can a court make?

Child Arrangement Order - Child Arrangement Orders are issued when the court reaches a decision regarding where your child should live, how much time a child spends with each parent and the sort of contact your child is afforded with each parent.

Specific Issue Order - Specific Issue Orders are put in place if you have specific requirements regarding the child’s upbringing. This can include what school they go to or whether they should be provided with a religious education.

Prohibited Steps Order - A Prohibited Steps Order is used stop another person with parental responsibility from making decisions regarding the child’s upbringing without consultation. They can also be used to prevent a parent from carrying out certain events or making specific trips.

Get advice about parental responsibility and civil partnership dissolution

At Crisp & Co, we have an expert team of child law solicitors who are on hand to ensure that any arrangements for children are sorted efficiently and swiftly during the course of your civil partnership dissolution.

Give us a call today to arrange a consultation with a member of our team or, alternatively, fill in our online enquiry form and we will be in touch shortly.