What is Parental Responsibility?

Parental responsibility or “PR” is a concept introduced by the Children Act 1989. The Act defines PR as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to a child and his property”. As the phrase suggests, the concept of parental responsibility serves to highlight the idea that parents have “responsibilities” or “duties” towards their children, as opposed to “rights” over them.  

Those who have parental responsibility will have the ability to make important and day-to-day decisions about the care and upbringing of the children, ranging from what they eat at mealtimes, their discipline and recreation to their education, medical treatment and religion.

Who has parental responsibility?

The biological mother of the child will always automatically have parental responsibility for that child.

The father will have parental responsibility if they are named on the birth certificate or if they were married to the mother at the time the child was born. If none of these conditions apply, then parental responsibility can also be obtained through a “parental responsibility agreement” with the mother or by applying to the court for a “parental responsibility order”, by obtaining a “child arrangements order” from the court. Additionally, PR can be obtained by being appointed a guardian, either by the mother or the court, in the event of the mother’s death.

Can step-parents or civil partners have parental responsibility?

In short, yes if both of the parents with parental responsibility agree to this. Otherwise an application to the court will need to be made for a “parental responsibility order”.

Can anyone else acquire parental responsibility?

If the child goes into care then the Local Authority will acquire PR for that child if a “care order” is made.

Under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, the natural mother in a same-sex relationship can also choose to nominate her partner as a “parent”, who will then be able to apply for parental responsibility by being registered on the register of births, obtaining a parental responsibility order or through the making of a parental responsibility agreement.

In addition, anyone who is named as the person with whom the child should live under a Child Arrangements Order will also acquire PR for the duration of that order.

What happens if those who have parental responsibility cannot agree on what is best for the child?

If you cannot reach agreement in relation to where the child should live or with whom they should spend time, then you will need to make an application for a “Child Arrangements Order” with the court. There is a fee of £215 for such an application.

If you cannot agree on a specific issue, such as where the child should attend school, then an application for a “Specific Issue Order” can be made to the court. Again, a fee of £215 will apply.

You can also make an application for a “Prohibited Steps Order” if you want to prohibit someone with parental responsibility from making a particular decision, or taking a particular action, without the consent of the court.

What types of decisions might I need to make an application for?

If you cannot reach agreement on the following issues then you may need to make an application to the court for a judge to determine the issue:

  • changing the name of the child;
  • enrolling the child or removing them from a certain school;
  • seeking or preventing medical treatment for a child;
  • the religion of the child;
  • moving abroad.

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