What is parental responsibility?

Posted on: 2 mins read
Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

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Parental responsibility is the “rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property” according to the Children Act 1989.

This definition doesn’t always help a parent understand what having parental responsibility really means. Ultimately, a parent with parental responsibility has duties and responsibilities in relation to their child that can include:

  • Protecting and looking after a child
  • Providing a home for the child
  • Making important decisions about your child’s life

In practice, this means anyone who has parental responsibility has a right to be involved in certain decisions that need to be made about the child. These decisions can include:

  • What the child’s legal name should be and changing the child’s name
  • What school the child should go to
  • What religion the child should be brought up with
  • Whether a child should have certain medical treatment
  • Giving permission for the child to be taken out of the country for a holiday or extended visit
  • Accessing a child’s school reports and medical records
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If more than one person has responsibility for a child, they must all be involved in decision-making for, or on behalf of the child.

When parents are separated, any day-to-day decisions can be made by the parent who is caring for the child. But more serious or major decisions must be dealt with together. Please get in touch with us if you need advice.

The process of getting parental responsibility won’t be the same for everyone. Our Family Law Solicitor, Sarah Rose, talks through some of the different situations and answers commonly asked questions below.

How Do I Get Parental Responsibility?

The mother of the child will have parental responsibility automatically, but the father of the child will not unless they’re married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth. If not, the father will get parental responsibility by:

  • Marrying the mother after the birth of the child
  • Being named on the child’s birth certificate or re-registering to be added to the birth certificate with the mother’s permission or a court order
  • Entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother
  • Getting a Parental Responsibility Order from the Court
  • Getting a “lives with” Child Arrangements Order

A second female parent who was married to or in a civil partnership with the birth mother before the child is born will also have automatic parental responsibility. The only times where this wouldn’t apply is if the child was conceived through intercourse or if the birth mother’s partner didn’t agree to having a baby.

  • If they’re not married, the mother’s partner will need to be named on the birth certificate of the child to get parental responsibility

For two male parents, if one is the biological father of the child and named on the birth certificate, he will get parental responsibility.

  • If a surrogate was used, both parents would need to apply to court for a Parental Order

Step-parents won’t automatically get parental responsibility and marrying the child’s parent won’t change this. A step-parent can only get parental responsibility by:

  • Adopting the child
  • Entering a Parental Responsibility Agreement – you’ll need to be married to the biological parent who the child lives with and have permission from everyone with parental responsibility
  • Getting a Parental Responsibility Order – you’ll need to be married to the biological parent for this
  • Getting a “lives with” Child Arrangement Order

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