Parental Responsibility: What is it and how is it gained and lost.

If you have Parental Responsibility, under the Children Act, you have certain rights and responsibilities in relation to a child, along with certain obligations.

If you don’t have Parental Responsibility, then you still have a duty to financially support your child, but you do not have the authority to make important decisions about their life.

What is Parental Responsibility?

Parental Responsibility is defined under the Children Act 1989, as: ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’.

Having Parental Responsibility gives you a greater involvement in decisions concerning your child’s upbringing. This means you can have input regarding major decisions relating to your child’s life, such as:

  • Making decisions on your child’s education, and where they go to school;
  • The religion your child is brought up in (if any);
  • Your child’s health and any medical treatment they receive;
  • Whether your child can leave the country, whether on holiday or to live permanently, and
  • Changing your child’s name.

If any issues regarding the above were to arise, and more than one person has Parental Responsibility, then everyone must be involved in the decision-making and come to an agreement. This does not mean every decision made on a daily basis must be agreed but, as an example, if a child is going on holiday aboard, then everyone with Parental Responsibility must agree.

If you do not have Parental Responsibility, then you don’t have the authority to influence major decisions regarding your child’s life. So, if one parent wants to take their child abroad for an extended period of time, you do not have the right to stop them.

Remember, just because you have Parental Responsibility, it does not give you the right to have contact with your child.

Who has parental responsibility and who can apply for it?

In England and Wales, all biological mothers automatically have Parental Responsibility for their children as soon as they are born. However, not all fathers automatically have Parental Responsibility.

The following people also automatically have Parental Responsibility:

  • A father, if he was married to the mother at the time the child was born
  • An unmarried father, if he is on the child’s birth certificate
  • Same-sex partners, if they were civil partners or married at the time the child was born, or at the time of fertility treatment

In all other cases, you will have no automatic right to Parental Responsibility. However, there are ways in which you can obtain Parental Responsibility.

Getting Parental Responsibility

If you do not have Parental Responsibility, there are ways in which you can get it.

You must be connected to the child in some way, as their father, step-parent, same-sex parent or grandparent.

If you are, you can get Parental Responsibility by:

  • Marrying the child’s mother;
  • Re-registering the birth of your child in joint names, if you are the father/same-sex parent;
  • Entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother;
  • Applying for it – this involves going through the Court and getting a Parental Responsibility Order.

What is a Parental Responsibility Agreement?

This is a legal agreement made between the child’s mother and either:

  • The unmarried father;
  • A step-parent, or
  • A second female partner

The aim of the agreement is to give the parent Parental Responsibility for the child, without having to go to Court for a Parental Responsibility Order.

Anyone that already has Parental Responsibility for the child, must agree for the agreement to be enforced.

Can the court remove a parent’s Parental Responsibility?

A mother’s Parental Responsibility can be lost, but only when other parents adopt her child.

In some exceptional cases, the court can remove a father’s Parental Responsibility or restrict it.

Our Family Solicitors Can Help You

Your rights and obligations as a parent vary, according to whether or not you have Parental Responsibility. If important decisions are being made about your child’s upbringing and you would like to have a say, we can advise you of your legal position.

If you don’t currently have Parental Responsibility but you would like to, we can explore the options available to you.

Furthermore, if there is a dispute between two people with Parental Responsibility, this can be decided by an Order of the Court. If you’re faced with this issue, we can help you.

For initial legal advice call our Family Law Department at 0208 514 9000

Written by Tilly Theakston (Paralegal)