What is 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’.
That means, if you have parental responsibility, you are recognised in the eyes of the law as having all the legal powers to make appropriate decisions in relation to the upbringing of your child.
The obligations and duties of a person with parental responsibility include taking care of and protecting their child, giving their child a home and making key decisions about the child’s life including education, welfare and medical treatment. An individual with parental responsibility may also need to make decisions regarding matters such as:
- Their child’s legal name, for instance, whether the name should be changed and under what circumstances
- Permission for the child to be taken to another country, whether on holiday or a longer trip
- Whether or not the child will be brought up in a certain religion
How to apply for parental responsibility?
If you do not have parental responsibility already and you would like to apply for parental responsibility, you can either obtain a parental responsibility agreement or apply to get a parental responsibility order from a court. The option that you choose will largely depend on your specific circumstances.
Who has parental responsibility?
Under the laws in England and Wales a mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth. This will be the case even if they used donated eggs. Who else has parental responsibility will depend on the circumstances.
A father who is married to the birth mother will have parental responsibility irrespective of whether the marriage to the mother occurred before or after the birth of the child.
An unmarried father listed on the birth certificate will also have parental responsibility.
Same sex parents will both have parental responsibility if they were married or in a civil partnership with each other prior to insemination.
For unmarried same sex couples, the mother who carries the child will automatically gain parental responsibility and the second parent can acquire parental responsibility by being named on the birth certificate
Unmarried fathers not named as father on the child’s birth certificate and second parents in same sex relationships, do not automatically have parental responsibility. This means that they are not recognised in law as having all the responsibilities relating to a child, such as being able to give permission for medical treatment or being entitled to updates on a child’s progress at school.
A parent who does not automatically have parental responsibility can obtain it either with agreement from the other parent or by making an application to the court, confirmed in a Parental Responsibility Agreement or a court order.
Parental responsibility for separated parents
As covered above, parental rights and responsibilities vary according to the situation. Many people are shocked and hurt to find that, if parents are unmarried, sometimes it is only the mother who has automatic rights with regard to their children.
A father or other second parent not married to or in a civil partnership with the mother can get this if the two of them make an agreement called a Parental Responsibility Agreement or by court order. Without parental responsibility, a parent has no right, for instance, to consent to medical treatment or be involved in the child’s education.
So, if the couple split up, the birth mother automatically has the right to have the children with her where she wishes and the father or other parent has no say at all, unless they have an agreement or court order.
For a biological father, parental responsibility can be gained by:
- marrying the mother of your child
- entering into a voluntary Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother
- obtaining a parental responsibility order from the court.
Stepparents may also secure parental responsibility. This can be achieved by reaching an agreement with all who currently hold parental responsibility or, where necessary, by applying to the court.
Before the court will make an order granting parental responsibility, you would need to establish that there is a degree of commitment to the child, a degree of attachment exists between you and the child and that the application is being made purely in the interests of the child’s welfare.
Once you have parental responsibility, it must be exercised appropriately and jointly with the mother of the child or anyone else who has parental responsibility.
Take a look at our team to find a parental responsibility lawyer who is right for you.
Parental responsibility and contact
If you have parental responsibility and are being denied the opportunity to see your child and you cannot reach an agreement with the other parent, you will require the Courts to make a court order, known as a Child Arrangements Order.
This will determine how often and where you see your child based on the circumstances of the case and a checklist of other factors, such as any previous contact that has taken place, where the parties live, the ages of the children and (depending on their age) the views of the children. The Courts will make a decision based on what they consider to be in the child’s best interests.
Parental responsibility comes to an end when the child attains the age of 18, years or earlier if a court order is made.
Who can apply for parental responsibility?
The following people can apply for parental responsibility:
- Unmarried fathers
- Second female parents
- Spouses or civil partners of a parent
Others can potentially secure parental responsibility by way of a Child Arrangements Order or by being appointed as a child’s guardian or special guardian. Additionally, a Local Authority can acquire parental responsibility for a child through a Care Order.
What are parental responsibility laws?
According to parental responsibility laws, a birth mother automatically gains parental responsibility for her children from their birth.
Who else is covered by parental responsibility laws will depend on the situation, as outlined above.
Fathers who do not have parental responsibility can apply for it, as can those with a connection to the child, for instance a second mother or a stepparent. According to parental responsibility law, more than two individuals are able to have parental responsibility for a child.
Can you apply for parental responsibility?
Yes, if you are not a child’s mother you can apply to obtain parental responsibility. For example, if you are the child’s father, not married to the mother or named on the birth certificate and therefore do not have parental responsibility automatically.
You may also wish to apply if you’re a child’s second mother or if you are bringing up a child as a stepparent. Making an application allows those who are not automatically granted parental responsibility to establish parental rights.
What is a parental responsibility agreement?
A parental responsibility agreement refers to an arrangement between the mother of a child and another individual who wishes to obtain parental responsibility (for example, the child’s biological father or a stepparent). The purpose of the parental agreement is for one of these parties to obtain parental responsibility without the necessity of a court hearing.
The process to create and enforce a parental responsibility agreement involves filling out the appropriate legal paperwork. Next the forms must be signed, the signing of the forms needs to be witnessed at a family court.
What is a parental responsibility order?
This is used where parents or stepparents cannot agree on whether one party should have parental responsibility and therefore cannot negotiate a parental responsibility agreement. The person seeking parental responsibility will need to apply to the court to obtain a parental responsibility order.
The court will assess the best interests of the child and the details of the case, when determining whether or not parental responsibility will be granted. The court will consider why the applicant is applying for parental responsibility and their relationship with the child. They will assess whether the person has shown that they have a suitable commitment to the child and to duties surrounding parental responsibility.
Please contact our solicitors for advice on the rights of parents and obtaining a parental responsibility order in the UK.
When does parental responsibility end?
Parental responsibility ends on the child’s 18th birthday. It may end before that date if, for example, the child is adopted or where a parent passes away.
The parental responsibility order might also end if it was granted through a Child Arrangements Order and that order has been discharged or has expired.
Take a look at our team to find a parental responsibility lawyer who is right for you.
Can parental responsibility be taken away?
It is very rare for parental responsibility to be taken away from a parent, however, there are some circumstances where this may occur, for instance if abuse has taken place or if the child is adopted.
Under rare circumstances, a person with parental responsibility might make an application to take parental responsibility away from someone else. Whether or not that application is successful or not depends on the situation and how parental responsibility was first gained.
How are parental disputes resolved?
Where parents share joint parental responsibility, if one parent wants to make a significant decision about the child’s upbringing, they will usually need the consent of the other.
Those with parental responsibility often need to make key decisions about a child’s life and welfare, however, parents do not always agree on what’s best for their child.
Where those with parental responsibility cannot agree regarding an aspect of a child’s upbringing, the first step is for the parents to attempt mediation to resolve the issue.
If mediation cannot resolve the issue, those with parental responsibility may need to apply for one of the following court orders:
- Child Arrangements Order: To decide on issues including where the child will live and what contact they will have with each parent.
- Specific Issue Order: Where a parent makes an application to the court to establish a legally binding decision on a specific issue related to the child’s upbringing.
- Prohibited Steps Order: Where one parent is aware that the other is planning to take an action related to the child’s upbringing (e.g. taking them out of the country) and they do not agree with that decision, the opposing parent can apply for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent the action.