I Don’t Have Automatic Parental Responsibility

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A person with Parental Responsibility has a duty to provide a home to a child and the right to make decisions about key issues such as medical treatment, education and where they live.

However, Parental Responsibility isn’t an automatic right for every parent. Therefore, those who wish to acquire this right may have to enter into a Parental Responsibility Agreement or apply to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order.

For initial advice get in touch with our Family and Child Law Solicitors.

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Who has Parental Responsibility?

In England and Wales a biological mother has automatic Parental Responsibility for her child. And if a child's biological parents are married when they are born, this right automatically goes to both parents. However, if the parents aren’t married when the child is born, only the mother automatically gets Parental Responsibility, and the biological father will have to acquire it in one of the following ways.

  • Marrying the child’s biological mother
  • Entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the biological mother and filing it at the Principal Registry of the Family Division of the High Court
  • Being registered as the child’s biological father on their birth certificate, provided that the child was born after 1 December 2003. A non-biological parent will not acquire Parental Responsibility by being named on a child’s birth certificate
  • Obtaining a Court Order that grants him Parental Responsibility

A step-parent can apply for Parental Responsibility if:

  • They are married to the child’s other parent and they enter in to a Parental Responsibility Agreement, with all the people who currently have Parental Responsibility for the child - this is likely to be both of the child’s biological parents. Any Parental Responsibility Agreement must be filed at the Principal Registry of the Family Division of the High Court
  • They obtain a Court Order which grants them Parental Responsibility

Both parties to a same sex marriage or civil partnership have Parental Responsibility of the chid.

An individual other than a parent can acquire Parental Responsibility for a child if they:

  • Adopt the child
  • Become the child’s legal guardian
  • Obtain an Order from the Court granting them Parental Responsibility
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Parental Responsibility Orders

A person who doesn’t have automatic Parental Responsibility of a child has the option of entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement or applying to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order.

The Court won’t grant a Parental Responsibility Order of any kind unless it’s satisfied that doing so will be better for the child than making no Order at all. This makes it clear that for an Order to be granted, there must be a strong argument that the Parental Responsibility should be granted to another person.

For instance, there would need to be some concern that the person/s who currently has Parental Responsibility for the child isn’t carrying out their responsibility properly, or that allowing the child to remain in their responsibility wouldn’t be in the child’s best interests.

One example may be where an unmarried father of a child isn’t named on his child’s birth certificate and therefore doesn’t have Parental Responsibility, and then the child’s mother starts a new relationship. The father then becomes concerned that the mother’s new partner is being physically abusive to the child, so he may apply for a Parental Responsibility Order to be granted in his favour.

Child Arrangement Orders

In these circumstances, a Court would normally grant a Child Arrangement Order, as well as consider whether it‘s necessary to grant a Parental Responsibility Order. A Child Arrangement Order deals with where a child shall live and who they should spend time and have contact with. A Child Arrangement Order will usually remain in place until a child reaches 16, but in exceptional circumstances, it can remain in force until a child’s 18th birthday.

If the Court granted a Child Arrangement Order that said the child should have contact with their father but not live with him, then the father would still have the right to apply for a Parental Responsibility Order, but it wouldn’t automatically be granted.

If there is a Child Arrangement Order in place that specifies that the child lives with the father, then this would mean that a Parental Responsibility Order would be automatically granted. Nobody could apply to change or remove the Parental Responsibility Order whist the Child Arrangement Order remained in force.

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