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”. Although it includes things such as the requirement to house a child and protecting and caring for a child, parental responsibility as a legal concept usually arises when a separated or divorced parent wants to be involved in decisions relating to a child’s upbringing. The most common kinds of circumstance in which parental responsibility (or PR) applies are:
- Naming the child and registering their birth and consenting to any change of name.
- Determining the religion, if any, of a child.
- Determining how and where a child should be educated.
- Consenting (or refusing consent) to a child’s medical treatment, such as a major operation.
- Determining where a child should live and whether they should be able to move abroad with the other parent.
Who has Parental Responsibility for a Child?
Automatic Parental Responsibility
The mother of a child always automatically has PR. The father of a child may or may not automatically have PR, depending on their circumstances.
If the parents were married when the child was born the father automatically has PR.
If the parents were not married but the child was born on or after 1 December 2003 and the father is named on the child’s birth certificate, he will have PR.
Acquiring Parental Responsibility
If the parents were not married at the time of the birth but later marry, then the father acquires PR by way of that marriage. This does not however apply to step-parents.
Step-parents are able to acquire PR through the agreement of all the other people with PR in the child’s life. This would be done by completing a form, signed by both parents, and witnessed by a court official. Alternatively step-parents can apply through the courts for PR.
If the child was born on or after 1 December 2003 and the father’s name is, at a later date, inserted onto a child’s birth certificate and the birth is re-registered, then the father will acquire PR.
If the father (or indeed any person) has a child arrangements order stating that the child lives with them (previously known as a ‘residence order’), they will hold PR for the child for as long as that order is in place.
If none of these circumstances apply, it is possible to acquire PR by preparing a ‘parental responsibility agreement’ or by on an application to the courts.
If the parents of a child are able to agree that the father who does not currently have parental responsibility should hold it, a parental responsibility agreement can be entered into. This is a document that is signed by both parents in the presence of a court official and grants the father PR without the need to go through a more formal court process. This can, however, only be done with the co-operation of both parents. If the other parent will not agree, the father would need to make an application to the court for a parental responsibility order.
When does Parental Responsibility becomes relevant?
In order to do certain things in relation to the child, you must obtain the consent of anyone else with parental responsibility. Such circumstances include changing the child’s name, determining which school they should attend and taking them abroad. Unless there is a court order in place which states otherwise, parents should obtain the consent of anyone else with PR even for short holidays abroad.
Parental responsibility concerns the more important things in a child’s life. It is not designed to interfere with day-to-day concerns, such as what a child might eat or how they dress. Those sorts of decisions are the responsibility of the parent who has care of the child at that time and parents should generally be trusted to look after a child in an appropriate way exercising their own discretion on such issues.
Can Parental Responsibility be lost or taken away?
You do not “lose” Parental Responsibility by reason of you separating or divorcing from the other parent or if the child no longer lives with you. It is therefore very important that parents, even when separated or divorced, continue to consult each other on important issues.
Parental responsibility can only be removed in some very limited circumstances. It is lost if a child is adopted and can also be removed by the courts in some extreme cases when a parent is found guilty of neglect or abuse of very serious kinds.