Maternity, paternity and adoption rights

5 mins read

This advice applies across the UK.

Find out about your rights when having a baby, including adoption leave, and statutory shared parental leave.

In this article

Your rights when having a baby

As an employee you may also be entitled to time off if you or your partner has either had a baby or adopted a child in the last year.

Please note that if your average earnings are less than the lower earnings limit for national insurance, you may not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay or Statutory Paternity Pay. Seek further advice if this applies to you. Other support may be available such as Maternity Allowance or certain state benefits.

Maternity leave

All pregnant employees are entitled to 12 months of maternity leave. This applies regardless of your length of service or how many hours you work.

If you have worked continuously for your employer for at least 26 weeks by the fifteenth week before your baby is due, and your average earnings are above a certain figure (£123 in 2023/24), you will also be eligible for statutory maternity pay (SMP) for the first 39 weeks of your leave.

Statutory Maternity Pay

For the first six weeks of maternity leave, you get 90% of your average earnings. The remaining 33 weeks are paid at £172.48 per week or 90% of your wages – whichever is the lower amount. Some employers may pay enhanced maternity pay, giving you extra wages while on maternity leave. Whether this will apply to you will depend on your contract of employment.

Find out more about maternity pay and leave on the government website.

Maternity Allowance

If you do not qualify for statutory maternity pay, for example if you have worked with your employer for less than a year or you are self-employed, your average earnings may help you qualify for Maternity Allowance instead. 

To be eligible, you must have been employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks out of the 66-week ‘test period’ before your expected date of childbirth. These weeks do not have to be consecutive. In addition, you must have had average earnings of at least £30 per week in any eight weeks within your 66-week test period. Claim Maternity Allowance from the Department for Work and Pensions.

Paternity leave

Fathers are entitled to paternity leave for either one week or two consecutive weeks. To qualify for paternity leave, you must have worked for an employer for 26 weeks by the fifteenth week before the baby is due, and be the baby’s biological father or the mother’s husband or partner. You may also be entitled to statutory paternity pay during these two weeks. 

Find out more about paternity pay and leave on the government website.

Adoption leave

Those who adopt children are entitled to up to 52 weeks’ Statutory Adoption Leave.

If you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks by the date you are matched with a child, you can be paid Statutory Adoption Pay for the first 39 weeks. Statutory Adoption Pay is 90% of average earnings for the first six weeks and then either 90% of wages or £172.48, whichever is lower, for the other 33 weeks.

There is also the option of taking a further 13 weeks’ leave, usually unpaid. Leave may be taken by either partner if a couple adopt, and you will need to choose who by. You may be eligible for Statutory Adoption Pay during this period. The other partner may be able to get paternity leave and paternity pay as an adopter.

Find out more about adoption leave and pay on the government website.

Statutory shared parental leave

If a mum who is entitled to maternity leave or pay or maternity allowance decides to return to work early, they can share some of the unused leave with their partner under rules known as statutory shared parental leave (SPL).

You may also able to take SPL if you and your partner have jointly adopted a child, and your partner returns to work before they have used up all of their Statutory Adoption Leave.


A working mum must take at least two weeks maternity leave immediately after a child’s birth, but she has the option of swapping all or part of the remaining 50 weeks of her maternity leave for SPL which she can then share with her partner.

This means that you and your partner have more flexibility in how you share the care of your child in their first year of birth or adoption. For instance you may decide to both be off at the same time or to take turns in having periods of leave to look after your child.

Statutory shared parental pay

Depending on your circumstances you may be entitled to Statutory Shared Parental Pay while you are on SPL. However, shared parental pay is only paid at a flat rate of £172.48 a week (or 90% of earnings if this figure is lower).

Find out about whether you would qualify for SPL and Statutory Shared Parental Pay on the government’s website. There is also a tool you can use to plan your Shared Parental Leave and Pay.