Parental Responsibility

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What is Parental Responsibility?

Parental Responsibility (PR) is in statute ‘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.’ – Children Act 1989, section 3(1)

However, in reality the courts usually focus on a parent's responsibilities rather than their rights. It is the right of a child to have a formal record of their parentage, identity as well as a relationship with their parents which the courts are generally focussed on.

PR is recognition that rearing a child involves a parent taking responsibility for that child. To summarise it is the responsibility to care for a child; to ensure the child receives an education; to ensure that medical treatment is provided and to administer a child’s property.

Who has Parental Responsibility?

Parental responsibility is shared in the case of a married couple and is shared where parents are separated or divorced. In summary some (certainly not all) of those who will have PR for a child are as follows:

  • the mother has automatic parental responsibility
  • the married father has automatic parental responsibility
  • the unmarried father has automatic parental responsibility if he is on the birth certificate of a child born after the 1st December 2003
  • the unmarried father who has a parental responsibility agreement or a parental responsibility order
  • adoptive parents
  • special guardian

Decisions and practicalities

Parental responsibility in practical terms when a child is with a parent means the day to day decisions are the responsibility of that parent, for example ‘minor’ school and medical decisions.

With more important decisions such as which school a child attends or where there are decisions to be made regarding medical treatment which is not of a minor nature, then all parties with Parental Responsibility should be consulted where practical e.g. not an emergency.

Birth certificate

For mothers in particular who have automatic parental responsibility, it is important to note that agreeing to the unmarried father who is not on the birth certificate acquiring parental responsibility, does not remove any rights from her as a parent.

Contact and Parental Responsibility

Having parental responsibility does not automatically mean that parent is spending time (contact) with a child, plenty of parents (generally fathers) will have PR but will still have no direct contact or only indirect contact with a child. A Child Arrangements Order application in the family courts is the way to move matters forward if an agreement is not possible between parents or in family mediation.

How do you acquire Parental Responsibility?

Parental responsibility can be acquired by fathers who do not automatically qualify, by agreement or by order of the court. Family mediation may be helpful in assisting parents agree to sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement and is also necessary to attempt before applying for a Parental Responsibility Order.

The application form for a Parental Responsibility Order is a Form C100

Further details on Parental Responsibility Agreements and Parental Responsibility Orders are on our blogpost.

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