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Family Law Blog

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Parental responsibility and school holidays

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So the school summer holidays are almost here again. This used to be a time of strategic planning to care for and look after the children across six sun-soaked weeks, family holidays and chaos around the house. These days, for me, it is more about being pleasantly surprised how much quieter the roads are at peak times than they would normally be without all the school run traffic. Times change.

However, there will be millions of families across the UK for whom the preparations mentioned above will be very familiar. It is perhaps timely then to remind people about parental responsibility.

Parental responsibility is defined as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, a parent of a child has in relation to the child and their property’. This may be something like authorising medical treatment or having the right to access a child’s school reports. 

A mother automatically has parental responsibility, as does a married father irrespective of whether the marriage to the mother occurred before or after the birth of the child. As from the 1 December 2003, unmarried fathers of children whose birth is registered on or after this date, provided they are named on the birth certificate of the child, also have parental responsibility.

Fathers of children whose birth is registered before 1 December 2003 who haven’t acquired parental responsibility by virtue of marriage, or unmarried fathers of children whose birth is registered after 1 December 2003 and are not named as father on the child’s birth certificate, do not automatically have parental responsibility. 

Have you got all that?! 

What this means is that in school holidays, parents – or step-parents – may be left in charge of children in their own family for whom they might not be able to make important decisions in an emergency, for instance if urgent medical treatment is required. Thousands of parents across the country will not be aware of this. 

Dads can draw up a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the child’s mother or apply for a court order. An experienced family law specialist will be able to talk you through the best option for you. However, it is important to note that if you have parental responsibility, this does give you the legal right to see your child but DOES NOT guarantee contact and a contact order is not the same thing as parental responsibility.  

Andrew Woolley
Family lawyer

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