What are you looking for?

7 May 2024 | Comment | Article by Victoria Cannon

Understanding and protecting parental rights for female military personnel

Our military partner, Female Veterans Alliance, has released a report, Female Veterans: The forgotten and invisible servicewomen of our Armed Forces, containing commentary and recommendations from a female veteran’s workshop held last year.

The report offers valuable insight into the multifaceted challenges faced by female veterans.

We’ve identified key concerns voiced by the female veteran community and are publishing a series of blogs to provide advice and guidance.

The workshop was sponsored by Hugh James, as is the report.

Parental rights for military personnel

The findings from the Female Veterans Alliance workshops have shown that parental rights for serving female personnel are unclear.  Many said they felt confused about how to transfer parental rights for their children whilst on deployment, generally unsupported and in some cases forced to leave the military because they had childcare concerns or did not want to be away from their children on long tours.

Here Victoria Cannon, Partner and our Head of Family Law, outlines what the parental responsibility laws are for female military personnel and offers guidance on navigating child arrangements during deployment.

Parental responsibility

Parental responsibility (PR) includes the rights, duties, and authority a parent holds in relation to their child’s upbringing and welfare. A parent with PR can make decisions about a child’s upbringing, their education, their wellbeing, their religion, and any other factors that involve decision making for a child.  Importantly, PR persists even if parental relationships break down.

How to get parental responsibility

Birth mothers automatically hold PR, while fathers and second mothers can acquire it through various means such as registration on the child’s birth certificate, agreement, marriage or civil partnership, or through a court order.

Stepparents do not automatically have PR, they will either need to enter into a PR agreement with the birth mother, apply for a court order or adopt a child.

Decision making during deployment

Having PR is important as it allows a parent or guardian caring for a child to make decisions in a child’s life if another parent is not present. This may be essential if one parent is in the military and deployed elsewhere. For example, if a child needed urgent medical attention, then only parents or guardians with PR, can provide that consent.

If parents are deployed within the UK or abroad then they may need to make arrangements with another parent to look after a child or other family members. Usually, a parent with PR can elect who will care for a child but any decisions need to have the consent of all parents or guardians who have PR for a child. This is where disputes can arise.

Let’s look at some examples.

Taking a child out of the country for 28 days:

If a parent has a child arrangements order (court order) for a child to live with them and spend time with another parent, they can take the child out of the country for 28 days. However, this specified period may not suffice. If there is no consent with the other parent to take the chid out of the country for longer, a dispute may arise, and an urgent court application could be made.

Change in care arrangements during deployment:

If there are no court orders in place, then there is no prescription to follow. A parent may have day-to-day care of a child, with the other parent having the child on alternate weekends. This could have been arranged informally. If the parent who the child ordinarily lives with is deployed, the other parent may look after the child for a period. To avoid any difficulties the parent should set out expectations and make clear what will happen when the parent on deployment returns. Arrangements may also be required to set up indirect contact while a parent is away, such face time contact and sending gifts and cards for special occasions.

Temporary relocation of a child:

Another example is where a parent who cares for a child may be deployed and the other parent, who may not have contact with the child, takes issue with temporary relocation. A parent who has PR can make an application to the court to prohibit a party from moving from their current location.

Staying with friends and family:

A child may only have one parent, but if the parent is deployed and the child needs to stay in the locality, to attend school for instance, then other arrangements may need to be considered. In this situation, if a family member is to look after a child it may be necessary to consider whether PR is required in the event that the parent may not be able to provide authority for medical treatment or decisions regarding a child’s schooling.

The above examples illustrate the complexity of child arrangements during deployment. They underscore the importance of proactive planning and legal guidance to address potential challenges. Whether it’s establishing contact arrangements, making holiday arrangements or prohibiting relocation, legal advice can streamline the process and protect parental rights.

In cases where parents are deployed, careful planning is essential to avoid disputes. Clear communication and formal agreements can mitigate conflicts and ensure the well-being of the child.

Family disputes

It is worth noting that if matters cannot be agreed, a parent could make an application for a child arrangements order, and particularly a prohibited steps order to prevent a parent from taking a child away.

Our family law team

As military personnel with children, understanding your parental rights and planning for deployment-related contingencies is paramount. Our Family team offers a bespoke service for members of the armed forces and can provide tailored solutions and peace of mind to military personnel so you can ensure the well-being and stability of your children, even in challenging circumstances.

Free initial consultation

Reach out today for a free initial consultation.

Author bio

Victoria Cannon


Throughout her career spanning over 19 years in family law, Victoria Cannon has amassed extensive experience in advising business owners on safeguarding their enterprises during divorce proceedings and minimising disruption to their business.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


Next steps

We’re here to get things moving. Drop a message to one of our experts and we’ll get straight back to you.

Call us: 033 3016 2222

Message us