How Long Does a Father Have to be Absent to Lose Rights in the UK?


How long does a father have to be absent to lose rights in the UK? This is a very common question in the UK family law world and is one that our family lawyers London have a lot of experience answering. Read this article to learn more.

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Parental Responsibility

A birth mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child, which is the responsibility to look after the best interests of the child in terms of their health, general well being and welfare, education until the age of 18 or until further studies are complete, and future direction such as schooling, where the child I’d to live and the like matters.

A father has parental responsibility if his name on the child’s birth certificate, or if not, is added to it by consent of the mother, or if no such consent is forthcoming, then the father will need to make an application to the court for a parental responsibility order.

Until 2003 unmarried fathers did not have automatic parental responsibility, but the law was changed to allow them to have such a say in their child’s life if their name was included on their child’s birth certificate.

What is the Position of the Absent Father?

It doesn’t matter how long the father has been absent from the life of his child, as parental responsibility is not lost by the operation of law unless the absence without a trace is for at least six years or more, when the absent father with parental responsibility may be presumed to have died. Other than that, only the mother can object to the father exercising any parental responsibility, but it is ultimately the court that can take away responsibility towards the child by making, for example, a specific order or child arrangement order in which it will make clear how often, when and where, the absent father will be able to see the child, and depending on the facts of the case, whether he will have any say in the child’s upbringing.

One hears about father‘s playing very little role in the lives of their child, leaving the former matrimonial home for years and resurfacing only to demand to see their child and resume a normal parental relationship with them. Not only could such a surprise visit at the threshold of the mother’s doorstep be most unwelcoming to the mother, but it is likely the mother would object, forcing the father to make an application to the court.

There is a difference between parental responsibility and visitation rights to the child.

If the absent father does not have parental responsibility, this does not mean he is unable to see the child during the week or weekends, and ultimately if this is not agreed with the child’s mother, the father would have to apply to the courts for a remedy, which will no doubt at that stage include the involvement of the court welfare officer. Their report to the court is very persuasive as to what direction the court would need to take on the application by the absent father.

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Issues relating to children can often be resolved through professional mediation by both parties, the costs of which are usually shared between them. An agreement at mediation can then be reflected in a court order. If there is no mediation despite attempts by one party to go to a mediator, then this is a matter that the absent father would have to mention in the application for visitation rights to the child with reasons.

If there has been domestic violence in the relationship, and one of the parties is unwilling to go to mediation, then there would be no need to do so.

What about Major Decisions in a Child’s Life?

Therefore, even with parental responsibility, a mother does not have to consult the absent father regarding decisions on the child’s future. However where there are major decisions to consider, such as the removal of the child on a permanent basis from the jurisdiction of this country, or where blood transfusion is refused to be administered to the child by the mother for religious reasons, or the child feels they are trapped in the wrong body and asks for a sex change, these serious matters if not agreed with the absent father will require court approval, so the mother may have to make an application to the court to deal with these issues.


In the end, the court decides what’s best for the child. This process can take years and involve many hearings. It can also cost a lot in legal fees. So, it’s always best to try and agree with the other side. If not, you could risk going bankrupt or even loose everything.

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