parent and child doing homework

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is defined in section 3 (1) of 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”.

In essence, parental responsibility grants the legal power to make important decisions that would typically be expected of a parent, such as which school the child will attend or whether they should undergo a medical operation. It also includes responsibilities such as looking after the welfare of the child and ensuring that they have a home.

Who has parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is automatically obtained by the child’s birth mother and any parent who is married or in a civil partnership with the birth mother.

This means that a parent who is not married or in a civil partnership with the birth mother will not automatically obtain parental responsibility. In these circumstances, if the couple were to split up the other parent would have no automatic say in the child’s upbringing, unless they have an agreement or court order.

How can a parent who is not married or in a civil partnership with the birth mother obtain parental responsibility?

A parent who is not married or in a civil partnership with the birth mother will be able to obtain parental responsibility through the following measures:

  • Being named on the child’s birth certificate as a parent by the birth mother;
  • Marrying or entering a civil partnership with the birth mother – this will grant parental responsibility even if entered into after the birth of the child;
  • Obtaining the agreement of the birth mother through a parental responsibility agreement;
  • Obtaining a parental responsibility order from the family court; or
  • Being named as the parent whom the child “lives with” in a child arrangements order.

How else can you obtain parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility can be obtained by a non-parent through the following measures:

  • By becoming the child’s guardian or special guardian. This might involve a family member such as a grandparent becoming the child’s guardian in circumstances where the parents have died;
  • Through a parental responsibility agreement. This involves all those who already hold parental responsibility agreeing to grant parental responsibility to an additional person. For example, a divorced couple might agree to give the mother’s new long-term partner parental responsibility;
  • Through a parental responsibility order. This is usually sought when there is disagreement over a step-parent being granted parental responsibility, such as if a father were to oppose the mother’s new partner being granted parental responsibility;
  • Through a parental order transferring parenthood from a surrogate mother and her partner to the intended parents (this will also discharge the parental responsibility of the original parents); or
  • Through an adoption order.

Notifying other individuals with parental responsibility

When couples with parental responsibility divorce or separate they still retain joint parental responsibility. As such they need to notify each other about certain issues relating to their child, such as GP appointments, emergency medical treatment and holidays.

It is not necessary to notify the other individual with parental responsibility about minor matters relating the child such as routine medical check-ups, social functions, or day-to-day activities.

Disputes between individuals holding parental responsibility

Parties with parental responsibility also need to reach agreement on significant decisions about the child’s upbringing These issues could include the choice of the child’s name, which school they attend, their religious upbringing, or taking the child on a holiday abroad.

If parties with parental responsibility are unable to agree then they should first attempt to resolve the issue through non-litigious means such as mediation. If this is not successful, they may need to ask the court to decide the issue. The following orders can be applied for in these circumstances:

  • Child arrangements order: To decide where the child will live and the amount of contact they will have with each parent.
  • Specific issue order: To decide a specific issue relating to the child’s upbringing, such as what school they will attend.
  • Prohibited steps order: To prevent one party taking an action, such as relocating with the child to a different part of the United Kingdom.

Removing or Restricting parental responsibility

Parental responsibility can be restricted or removed through a court order. A prohibited steps order may restrict parental responsibility to a degree by preventing the individual with parental responsibility taking a certain action such as moving the child to a different school.

However, it is very rare for the court to terminate parental responsibility altogether. It would usually require extremely serious circumstances such as the individual with parental responsibility being sent to prison for a serious offence.

If you are seeking advice for issues relating to parental responsibility, please contact us to arrange a consultation to speak to one of our expert parental responsibility lawyers.