Info & Advice

How to deal with divorce during pregnancy

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Divorce is stressful at any time, but if your marriage breaks down when you or your spouse are pregnant, this can add another layer of complexity and upset. As well as having to deal with the pregnancy, you will have to address the practical and legal issues surrounding the relationship breakdown. But what does the law say about divorce during pregnancy? Here’s what you need to know.

Divorce and pregnancy: the mother’s rights

Irrespective of whether the parties are married or separated, the mother does not have to include the father in any decisions relating to termination of the pregnancy, receiving medical treatment, or travelling abroad. In addition, the father is not allowed to be involved in any of the following actions without the mother’s express permission:

  • Viewing or accessing the mother’s medical records
  • Attending medical or antenatal appointments with the mother. This includes scans, blood tests, parenting classes that involve the mother (father could attend separately).
  • Being present at the child’s birth or receiving notification that the baby has been born
  • Visiting the hospital to see the baby and/or mother following the baby’s birth

Divorce and unborn children: the father’s rights

If the mother and father are still married or in a civil partnership following the birth of the child, both parents will automatically acquire parental responsibility. It is important to note that if the parties are married when the child is born but subsequently divorce, the father cannot lose parental responsibility. If the parties are divorced by the time the child is born, the father will not automatically acquire parental responsibility.

Outside of a civil partnership or marriage, a father has very few rights because much of what they are allowed to do very much rests with the mother.

A father who is divorced or not in a civil partnership with the mother at the time of the birth, can obtain parental responsibility in one of the following ways:

  • Having their name registered on the child’s birth certificate
  • Enter a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
  • Securing a parental responsibility order from the court
  • Being named as the resident parent under a child arrangements order

What are the financial obligations of the other parent surrounding divorce and pregnancy?

Whilst the rights of a father surrounding divorce and pregnancy are limited, they do have financial obligations towards the mother and their unborn child. Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which also applies to financial matters in divorce, the court has the power to order the father to make maintenance or support payments to the mother to ensure their basic needs are met throughout the pregnancy.

How are the needs of the mother measured?

The needs of the mother are measured by:

  • Assessment of the available financial resources
  • Reviewing living standards during the relationship
  • Stretching finite resources where they are consider modest

After the child is born, the father will be subject to additional financial obligations as part of the divorce settlement, which will include payment of ongoing child maintenance. These payments are determined by how much the paying parent earns, if they have any other children living in the household, and how many nights the child stays over.

What are the considerations for contact with a baby?

In cases involving infants, in the first few weeks, considerations extend to the unique needs of a baby, including dependency on the mother for breastfeeding and nurturing. These factors can significantly impact the father’s contact:


  • Babies are often breastfed, and their nutritional and emotional needs are closely tied to their mothers in the early months. Courts recognise the importance of breastfeeding and may tailor contact schedules to accommodate nursing routines. Fathers may be able to participate in caregiving by supporting breastfeeding mothers, facilitating bonding through skin-to-skin contact, and engaging in other activities such as nappy changing and bathing. Although this will depend to a large extent on the parent’s post-separation/divorce relationship.
  • In situations where breastfeeding isn’t possible, mothers may express breast milk for bottle feeding. Fathers can play an active role in feeding the baby with pumped milk, fostering their bond with the child, and providing them with essential caregiving experiences.
  • For infants transitioning between households, gradual adjustments to contact schedules can be beneficial. This approach allows the baby to acclimatise to spending time with the father while maintaining consistency in routines.
  • Both parents should support each other in providing the best care for the baby. This includes open communication about feeding schedules, sleep routines, and any concerns related to the baby’s well-being.
  • Fathers may require time off work or flexible schedules to accommodate bonding with the baby and supporting the mother, especially during the early post birth period. Parental leave and workplace accommodations can facilitate the father’s active involvement in looking after the baby in the early days.

If you are unable to reach an agreement about contact before the baby is born, then the father would have to wait until it is born before an application to court for a child arrangements order could be made. Before applying to the court, the parties must have attempted mediation.

Once the child is born, if parents enter into a child arrangements order, it can be sealed by the court to make it legally binding. Before making the order, the court would first consider if the agreement was in the child’s best interests. The child’s welfare is the court’s first priority, and it looks towards the Welfare Checklist as a guide when making its decision. Because the child is an infant, it is likely that as the years pass, the contact agreement or order would need to change. Either parent can, at any stage, make an application to the court to vary a child arrangements order. You are not eternally bound by the original order’s terms.

It is unlikely that the court would make an order for one parent not to have a relationship with their baby, even if they are newborn and arrangements are difficult.

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