Stonewall Scotland | Legal parenthood and parental responsibility
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Legal parenthood and parental responsibility

What is legal parenthood?

A child can only ever have two legal parents but it is possible for more than two people to have parental responsibility.

The key implications for being a child's legal parent are:

  • if they are named on the birth or adoption certificate they will have parental responsibility
  • they have financial responsibility, which can include paying child maintenance
  • they can confer rights such as nationality and inheritance entitlements to their child

The legal parents

The following rules apply for children conceived through donor insemination on or after 6 April 2009.

Under UK law a child's birth mother will automatically be their legal parent when they are born, even if they are not their biological mother.

A child's second legal parent, at birth, will depend on the circumstances at the time of their conception. The birth mother's civil partner or spouse will be considered legal parent, and can be named on the birth certificate, if they were married or civil partners at the time of conception.

A child conceived through a UK licensed fertility clinic;

The birth mother can sign an agreement through the clinic to name one of the people below as second legal parent;

  • Her partner, if they are not married or in a civil partnership
  • The biological father, if a known donor

A child conceived outside a UK licensed fertility clinic;

  • If the birth mother is not married or in a civil partnership at the time of conception, the second legal parent, under UK law, will be the donor father. He will have parental responsibility if he's registered on the birth certificate.
  • It is possible for the birth mother's partner to become a legal parent by applying to adopt. She can also acquire parental responsibility (see below).
  • The first step in applying to adopt your partner’s child is to inform your local council, who should be able to give you more information on the process.


Parental Responsibility

Having parental responsibility for a child means that you can take decisions about matters such as education and religion and that you can consent to medical treatment for the child. It does not make you the child’s legal parent so for example for the purposes of inheritance, it would be important to put in place a will.

More than two people can have parental responsibility.


How do I get Parental Responsibility?

You will automatically have parental responsibility if you are named on the birth certificate or are adopters of the child. If you partner is a legal parent and named on the birth certificate and you are in a civil partnership or a marriage you can sign a parental responsibility agreement with your partner and the birth mother.

If you are not in a civil partnership or married you would have to apply for to the family court for a residence order which would give you parental responsibility.


For further information please contact Stonewall Scotland on 0131 474 8019 or email