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What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility definition

Parental Responsibility is defined by the Children Act 1989 as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property by law’.

Parental responsibility allows a person that holds it to make important decisions for the benefit of a child in relation to their education, healthcare, religion, discipline and daily care until they turn 18 years old. Some important decisions will need to be taken jointly with every person that holds parental responsibility and these are detailed below.

Parental responsibility is different from being a parent; a person can have parental responsibility without being the biological parent of a child. Several people can have parental responsibility at any one time.

Who automatically has parental responsibility?

A mother automatically obtains parental responsibility for a child upon giving birth. A father (or second female parent) will also automatically obtain parental responsibility if he (or she) is married to, or in a civil partnership with, the mother when the child is born.

How to get parental responsibility

If the father (or second female parent) of the child is not married to the mother at the time of birth, they can obtain parental responsibility in one of the following ways:

  1. By being registered as the father (or second female parent) on the birth certificate. This requires the mother’s consent;
  2. By entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother and filing it with the court; or
  3. By obtaining a court order. An application can be made for either a standalone Parental Responsibility Order or parental responsibility will also be granted upon the father (or second female parent) being named as a person with whom the child is to live in a Child Arrangements Order.

Step Parent Parental Responsibility Agreement

Step-parents can acquire parental responsibility by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with parents that have parental responsibility, by obtaining a court order or by being named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child is to live.

Do special guardians have parental responsibility?

Others can also acquire parental responsibility by becoming a child’s guardian or adoptive parent or by obtaining a Child Arrangements Order naming them as a person with whom the child is to live. In the situation where a child is the subject of a care order or emergency protection order, the Local Authority will also acquire parental responsibility.

Implications of parental responsibility

Individuals that hold parental responsibility are legally responsible for meeting the child’s basic needs. These include providing them with a home, maintaining them financially, providing them with an education (whether at school or at home) and ensuring that they receive any medical treatments that they require. They also have a responsibility to look after any property that the child may have.

Each person with parental responsibility can act independently for the day to day decisions within a child’s life but the consent of everyone with parental responsibility is necessary when taking certain, more important, decisions. These decisions include: whether a child should be removed from the UK, whether a child should be placed for adoption, whether a child’s name should be changed, how a child is to be educated and a child’s medical treatment.

If those with parental responsibility cannot agree on a decision for a child then it will be open to either of them to make an application to the court for the court to determine the matter. Depending on the nature of the application made, the Court can make a Child Arrangements Order, Prohibited Steps Order or Specific Issue Order if it considers that making such an order would be in the child’s best interests.

A person with parental responsibility can delegate the responsibility of looking after a child, for example to a childminder, teacher or grandparent, but parental responsibility is not transferred to them whilst the child is in their care.

Parental responsibility does not determine whether a person has an obligation to provide for a child financially from his own resources. A father may not have parental responsibility but still has a financial responsibility under the Child Maintenance Service to maintain the child.

Can a Mother or Father lose parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility ends automatically once a child reaches the age of 18.

Effect of divorce or separation

Parental responsibility continues following the parent’s separation or divorce.

Can you remove parental responsibility in the UK?

Parental responsibility cannot be removed from a mother or a father who was married to the mother when the child was born.

Parental responsibility can be removed by the court from fathers (or second mothers) who acquired it through any method other than by way of marriage. The circumstances in which the court has done this in practice have been exceptional; for example where there has been serious abuse perpetrated by the parent to the child.

Parental responsibility is also lost by the mother and father (or second mother) if a child is adopted or if a parental order is made in respect of the child.

Restriction of parental responsibility

Parental responsibility can be limited by the court for mothers and fathers who automatically acquired it. In practice, this means that a person with parental responsibility may be restricted from being consulted about certain decisions in respect of a child’s life for a duration of time by way of the court making a Prohibited Steps Order. When deciding whether to make such an order, the court will need to balance the rights and interests of the parent and child but the child’s best interest will be the paramount consideration.

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