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Parental Responsibility

If you are the parent, step-parent or guardian of a child, having legally-recognised parental responsibility for that child is essential to ensure you can make, or be involved in, important decisions about their life and upbringing.

While a child’s birth mother will automatically have parental responsibility for their child, fathers, non-birth mothers, step-parents and guardians may not, depending on the circumstances.

Establishing parental responsibility can be straightforward or more complicated depending on the issues involved, so it is a good idea to seek specialist legal advice as soon as possible.

You might be able to simply re-register your child’s birth to add your name to their birth certificate, or agree with their mother and anyone else with parental responsibility for this to be granted to you as well. Alternatively, you may need to apply to a Court for a Parental Responsibility Order if an amicable agreement cannot be reached.

Our expert Family Law team can advise you on all of the issues associated with parental responsibility, including whether you already have it and what steps you need to take if you do not. We have a strong focus on non-confrontational dispute resolution, so wherever possible we will seek to reach an agreement without the need for Court proceedings, making things easier for you and your child.

To find out more about getting help with parental responsibility issues, please contact our new client co-ordinators to arrange an initial consultation.


What does it mean to have parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is defined in law by 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.’ It lasts until the child reaches 18 or marries between the ages of 16 and 18.

People with parental responsibility are entitled to have a say in major decisions about the child, such as:

  • Where the child should live
  • Where they should go to school
  • What religion they should practice
  • What name they should have
  • The giving or withholding of medical treatment
  • Dealing with their money or property

Parental responsibility does not entitle someone to interfere with day-to-day decisions such as what the child wears, their hobbies or choice of TV programmes etc.


Who has Parental Responsibility?

This will depend on the circumstances, but you will normally have parental responsibility if you are the child’s:

  • Birth mother
  • Biological father who was married to the birth mother before the child’s birth or subsequently
  • Unmarried father
  • If you were named as the child’s father on their birth certificate
  • If you are not named on the birth certificate and you enter into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother or by a Court Order
  • Special Guardian
  • Guardian appointed under a parent’s Will if the parent has died and there is nobody else still living who has parental responsibility

Where an Emergency Protection Order, Interim Care Order or Care Order is made, the Local Authority will then share Parental Responsibility with anyone who had parental responsibility before the Order was made.


Can Parental Responsibility be taken away?

There are certain situations where you can lose parental responsibility, either voluntarily or involuntarily, including if:

  • An Adoption or Placement Order is made
  • The Court makes an order to remove Parental Responsibility (which will only be done in exceptional circumstances)

The parents’ parental responsibility will be limited if a Special Guardianship Order is made, with the Special Guardian only having to consult the parents about specific decisions such as changing the child’s surname, placing them for adoption or granting parental responsibility to anyone else.


How can you get parental responsibility for a child?

Where the parents were not and have not been married, it is possible to re-register the child’s birth to add the father’s name to the birth certificate. This gives the father parental responsibility.

Parental responsibility can also be granted to a father by written agreement with the child’s mother. A parental responsibility agreement is a legal document that must be signed and witnessed by a court officer. To be effective, it must also be filed at the Principal Registry of the Family Division (the main family court in London). A step-parent can also acquire parental responsibility by agreement.

If agreement is not possible, a father can apply to court for a parental responsibility order. The child’s mother can oppose the application and put forward her reasons for doing so.

When considering whether to allow a father to have parental responsibility, a judge will consider the father’s commitment and attachment to the child, and whether his reasons for applying are genuine. Generally, courts tend to award parental responsibility unless the father poses a risk to his child or to the mother.

A successful application to court for a Special Guardianship order or a Parental Order after surrogacy will also automatically grant parental responsibility. Parental responsibility may also be granted when the court makes a Child Arrangement Order.