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Life of a female athlete: raising a child whilst competing

Posted: 19/09/2023


The role of a parent and professional athlete bring different, and often competing, demands. For female athletes who choose to have a family, the transition to motherhood can be tough. This article takes a look at some of the key ways in which female athletes can protect themselves and their families throughout their career, and highlights the principal considerations for athletes raising a family whilst competing in elite sport.

Nuptial agreements

Female athletes would be well advised to enter into a nuptial agreement, in advance of, or during, their marriage. A nuptial agreement can be used to regulate a couple’s financial affairs during their marriage, and/or define how their assets should be shared in the case of a marital breakdown or separation. 

These agreements can be particularly helpful for female athletes who intend to have children, as if their career is age-restricted, or if they plan to take a career break to care for children, they can ensure that they will not be in any worse a financial position. Such agreements can also ring-fence any unspent income and/or explain how a couple intend to regulate their finances in the future, for example once they step out of the sports arena.  

The treatment of any unused frozen eggs and/or embryos upon a separation can also be set out and evidenced in a nuptial agreement. They can be tailored entirely to a female athlete’s unique financial and personal circumstances.

Although nuptial agreements are not legally binding, there is a presumption in England and Wales that they should be upheld if the qualifying criteria are met. This includes each party obtaining independent legal advice, providing that there is full financial disclosure, a lack of duress, and sufficient time for each party to consider the terms and implications of the agreement. Seeking the assistance of a skilled family lawyer will ensure that the qualifying criteria are met.

Parenting agreements 

It is also worth considering a parenting agreement which sets out your, and your partner’s, plans for your children. This can detail your agreement in relation to key decisions, for example, their education, and explain your children’s routine and how this is impacted by your career (for example travel) if this is appropriate.  

Any such plan will be considered by a family court should you and your partner separate in the future and subsequently disagree on the arrangements for your children. However, it is worth highlighting that agreements for children are never set in stone and may change as your children get older and their needs develop, and/or circumstances change.

International travel

International travel often goes hand in hand with competitive sport. Many female athletes are expected to travel extensively to train and compete and it is important to consider the rules that apply prior to travelling abroad with children.

If your partner/spouse shares parental responsibility with you for your child (which is typically the case), it is important to seek their consent and agreement prior to travelling outside of the UK with your children. Travelling abroad without their consent constitutes child abduction, which is a criminal offence. 

The consent should be documented, as you may be asked for evidence of their permission for you to travel with the child, and your relationship to that child at the UK or foreign border. Important documents to obtain prior to travel are the following:

  • the written consent of the other parent (ideally with a copy of their passport);
  • the child’s birth or adoption certificate to illustrate you are related (this is particularly important if you have a different surname to your child);
  • your marriage certificate (if applicable);
  • full contact details of your spouse; and
  • specifics of your trip (such as flight, accommodation and itinerary details).

If you are separated or divorced, the rules may be slightly different. If there is a child arrangements order in place regulating that your child lives with you, you can travel outside of the UK with your child without the consent of the other parent for a period of up to 28 days, so long as it does not impact on the arrangements for the other parent to spend time with the child. If your planned trip is longer, you would need to obtain written consent of the other parent. 

If there is no court order in place regulating where and with whom your child should live, and your former spouse does not provide consent, you may need to make an application to the court for permission to travel outside of the UK for a specific period of time. When deciding such applications, the court’s primary consideration will always be the welfare of the child, although the nature of your career and international opportunities can be put forward as a factor for consideration by the courts.

This article was co-written with Sarah Everington, associate in the family law team. 


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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP