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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.
On a practical level it will, among other things, allow you to contact your child’s GP to obtain or discuss medical treatment for your child, and to play an active role in your child’s education, giving you access to school reports and parents’ evenings.
Who has parental responsibility?
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. 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.
Parental responsibility for separated parents
Many people are shocked and hurt to find that, if parents are unmarried, it is only the mother who has automatic rights with regard to their children.
A father not married to 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 father 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 mother automatically has the right to have the children with her where she wishes and the father has no say at all, unless he has an agreement or court order.
For a 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.
Step-parents may also apply for parental responsibility. 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.
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.