Paternity leave and leave for co-parents

Baby in father's handsDespite the name, paternity leave is not just for fathers. It's for other kinds of co-parents too.

To qualify for paternity leave you have to:

  • Be an employee and not fall into an excluded category (such as armed forces and the police)
  • Have or expect to have responsibility for the child's upbringing
  • Be the biological father of the baby or the mother's husband, civil partner or partner. A partner may be a same sex partner but must live with the mother 'in an enduring family relationship' and not be a close blood relative
  • Have worked for your employer for 26 weeks by the beginning of the 15th week before the baby's due date

If you are the mother's husband or partner but not the father of the baby, you must expect to have the main responsibility for bringing up the baby (after the mother's responsibility).

Like maternity leave, paternity leave falls into two categories: ordinary and additional.


Ordinary paternity leave

You are entitled to ordinary paternity leave where the purpose of your absence is:

  • To care for a newborn child
  • To care for an adopted child under age 18
  • To support the child's mother

When a couple adopt, whether they are a same or mixed sex couple, one person may take adoption leave and the other may take paternity leave.

Note that the guidance below covers domestic adoptions; there are special rules for overseas adoptions.

For ordinary paternity leave, the father (or partner) may take one whole week or two consecutive whole weeks. Sadly the entitlement cannot be broken up into odd days. It can start any time in the eight weeks after the baby is born (or, if the baby was premature, up to eight weeks after the date when the baby was due). In relation to adoption, the leave can start any time up to eight weeks after the child is placed with the adopter.

Unfortunately, you can't wait and see when you might want to take paternity leave and how much you might want to take. In order to be entitled, you must give notice to your employer, in or before the 15th week before the due date of:

  • The due date
  • The length of leave you want to take
  • When you want to take the leave

Or, in the case of adoption, you must give notice no more than seven days after the date on which the adopter is notified of having been matched with the child or, where that is not reasonably practicable, as soon as is reasonably practicable of:

  • The date on which the adopter was notified that he or she had been matched with the child
  • The date on which the child is expected to be placed with the adopter
  • The length of the period of leave that you have chosen to take
  • The date on which you have chosen to begin your leave

You can vary the date you want to take your paternity leave, but generally speaking you will have to give your employer 28 days' notice (or give notice as soon as possible if for some reason it's not possible to give 28 days' notice). If you have picked a particular date to start your paternity leave and the baby/child has not turned up by then, you are allowed to substitute a later date.

If your employer asks you to, you will have to give a signed declaration that your absence from work is due to paternity leave and that you qualify for paternity leave. There is a model form which you can use for this purpose and you can use the same form to declare your entitlement to paternity pay.

If the worst (or just the unexpected) happens

You will still be entitled to paternity leave if:

  • Your baby is stillborn or dies after 24 weeks of pregnancy
  • The mother of your baby dies
  • Your baby is born prematurely before you have 26 weeks continuous service with your employer

Paternity leave does not cover any kind of antenatal emergency or indeed the labour and birth itself but you may have a right to other kinds of time off so have a look at our factsheet on Time off for Dependants.

Ordinary Statutory Paternity Pay

Unless your contract provides for a more generous sum, you will be entitled to Statutory Paternity Pay. This is the same as the lower rate of Statutory Maternity Pay. Have a look at our factsheet on Maternity Pay for details.

You are entitled to any other benefits you might be due under your contract during paternity leave and you are entitled to return to your job with no loss of seniority, contractual rights etc.

Mistreatment as a result of taking paternity leave

If your employer treats you badly in some way because you took your paternity leave, you may be able to take a complaint to an employment tribunal. Take advice promptly if you think this has happened because the time limit for presenting a complaint to an employment tribunal is generally three months from the date of the bad treatment.


Additional paternity leave

This is a way of sharing out the leave to which only the mother of the baby was previously entitled between the parents. If the mother returns to work before she has exhausted her SMP or SMA the person taking additional paternity leave will also be eligible for Additional Statutory Paternity Pay up to the amount remaining.

The taking of additional paternity leave involves jumping more bureaucratic hurdles than you might wish. The person proposing to take paternity leave must satisfy all the conditions for ordinary paternity leave and in addition, the mother of the child must satisfy the 'mother conditions' and sign a 'mother's declaration'.

The 'mother's declaration' is a signed written declaration of the following:

  • The mother's name and address
  • The date she intends to return to work
  • Her national insurance number
  • That you (the person wanting to take the leave) satisfy the conditions concerning your relationship to the child or the mother and your responsibility for the upbringing of the child
  • That to her knowledge, you are the only person exercising the entitlement to additional paternity leave in respect of the child
  • That she consents to your employer processing the information she has provided

The 'mother conditions' are that:

  • With regard to her pregnancy with this child, she is entitled to one or more of: 
    • Maternity leave
    • Statutory Maternity Pay
    • Maternity allowance
  • That she has returned, or is treated as having returned, to work  

When can you take additional paternity leave? How much can you take?

You can take additional paternity leave:

  • At any time in the period beginning 20 weeks after the date the child is born (or placed for adoption) and ending 12 months after the date the child is born (or placed for adoption)
  • You cannot take it less than eight weeks after you have given notice that you want to take it

Your additional paternity leave must be a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of 26 weeks. It has to be complete weeks and it has to be taken as one continuous period.

What you have to do in order to take additional paternity leave

You must:

  • Give your employer notice of your intention to take additional paternity leave at least eight weeks before your chosen start date. You can get a standard form from HMRC to use.

The document must contain:

i. A 'leave notice' specifying:

  • The week which contained the child's due date
  • The child's date of birth
  • The start date and end date for your leave

ii. An 'employee declaration' which is a written declaration signed by you, stating:

  • That the purpose of the additional paternity leave is to care for the child
  • That you satisfy the conditions concerning your relationship to the child or the mother and your responsibility for the upbringing of the child

iii. A 'mother declaration' as described above.

Your employer may request that you provide either or both:

  • A copy of your child's birth certificate, and
  • The name and address of the mother's employer, or, if she is self-employed, the mother's business address

Your employer must make this request within 28 days of getting your notice and you must provide the information within 28 days after that.

Note: There are similar provisions for Additional Paternity Leave in respect of the adoption of a child. 


This content was created for Mumsnet by two barristers specialising in discrimination and parents' rights at work, Natasha Joffe and Lydia Seymour. Please have a look at our disclaimer and bear in mind that the information provided is no substitute for specific advice on your individual case.

Last updated: about 3 years ago