mental health Mandy Kloppers

The Fundamental Differences Between Motherhood and Fatherhood

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The fundamental differences that exist between motherhood may be considered a matter of opinion. Traditionalists would argue that motherhood is about nurturing a child and looking after the family home, while fatherhood involves protecting and providing financially for a child and the whole family. 

However, as traditional roles experience a significant shift in today’s society, with more women at work, and more men getting involved in domestic duties, has the law changed with the times? In this article, we look at the basic differences between the legal status of fatherhood and motherhood. 

The legalities of fatherhood

Defined as ‘the state of being a father’ fatherhood begins when a child is born or adopted, you may also become a father if you marry someone who already has a child. Prior to DNA paternity testing, there was no credible way of ascertaining whether a man was the biological father of a child or not. As such, in the eyes of the law, the husband was automatically given fatherhood rights and responsibilities. The onset of paternity testing has resulted in some understandably undesirable situations which have often led to divorce and family disputes. However, despite having the technology to establish biological fatherhood, some jurisdictions and family courts remain hesitant to change the legal status of the father.

Parental responsibility and fathers 

Parental responsibility is a set of legal rights, duties and responsibilities related to the upbringing of a child. Fathers will have parental responsibility if: 

  • They are married to the child’s mother after, or at the time of birth or marry them later
  • The birth certificate of the child names the as the father (if it took place before December 2003)
  • The courts order that they have parental responsibility 
  • An authorised agreement between the mother and father has been signed giving him PR

The legalities of motherhood 

As the person carrying and giving birth to a child, there can be no doubt as to who the biological mother is. This means mothers are given automatic parental responsibility for their child. It’s important to note that if a mother is not considered the primary caregiver or does not live with the child, then there is no automatic right to contact with them. Also, a mother with parental responsibility must be consulted in regards to medical, education decisions, regardless of the living arrangements of the child. 


What is parental responsibility? 

Having parental responsibility means you have a defined set of responsibilities, including the provision of a home and protection for a child, as well as naming and disciplining them, and choosing their education. You are also charged with taking care of their medical treatment and ensuring their property is looked after. Parents have a responsibility to support their child financially, with or without parental responsibility.  It’s possible for more than two people to have PR for a child, for example, a step-parent may have it, or if care proceedings have taken place, the Local Authority may have it too. Parents are legally responsible for their child up until the age of 18.


Changing roles 

Recent UK statistics reveal that there are more stay-at-home dads than ever, with around one in nine stay-at-home-parents now fathers, this represents a change from 2019 when it was one in 14. Figures from the Office of National Statistics also highlight that in 2021, more than half of mothers between the ages of 16-24 years were working. The change and development of roles are impacting the differences between motherhood and fatherhood today, with the lines becoming ever-more blurred.


Photo by Klara Kulikova on Unsplash

Mandy Kloppers
Author: Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a qualified therapist who treats depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, trauma, and many other types of mental health issues. She provides online therapy around the world for those needing support and also provides relationship counselling.