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What is parental responsibility and who has it?

View profile for Lucy Birch
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Parental responsibility is defined by the law as “the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property by law.”

I have many clients ask me, what is parental responsibility? Is this something I have? There is often a lot of confusion over the rights and responsibilities that you have as a parent, particularly if you are going through a separation or a divorce.

Having parental responsibility essentially means that you are responsible for ensuring that your child is properly cared for. It also means you can make decisions about their care and upbringing.

Important decisions in a child’s life must be agreed with anyone else who has parental responsibility. Such decisions include where the child is to attend school, medical decisions etc. These decisions must be differentiated from day to day decisions made by the parent whose care the child is in at the time. Parental responsibility comes to an end when a child reaches the age of 18.

Parties who automatically have parental responsibility are as follows:-

  • All birth mothers
  • Fathers married to the mother at the time the child was born
  • Fathers who are not married to the mother, but are registered on the child’s birth certificate. The registration or re-registration must have taken place on or after 1 December 2003.
  • Civil partners and partners of mothers registered as the child’s legal parent on the birth certificate

It must be noted that parental responsibility does not affect the duty a parent has to maintain their child financially. All parents have a duty to pay towards their child’s upbringing, whether or not they have parental responsibility.

In order to acquire parental responsibility, the other parent has to be in agreement. Parties can complete a parental responsibility agreement form available from the government website. Both parents must sign the form at court as it must be witnessed by a court officer. You need to provide the court with a copy of your child’s birth certificate and proof of identity. This is then registered at the Central Family Court.

If an agreement cannot be reached, then an application can be made to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order. The court will decide if it’s in the best interests of the child for the parent or step-parent to have parental responsibility, having regard to the ‘welfare checklist’.

The welfare of your child will be the court’s top priority. It is usually the case that an unmarried father will be granted parental responsibility. There has to be a very good reason for him not to have it, such as safeguarding concerns for the child. Factors that the court will consider include the commitment that the parent has shown to the child and the level of attachment between the child and the parent.

If you require further advice regarding parental responsibility, or if you have any concerns regarding child arrangements, please do not hesitate to contact our team of friendly family lawyers. Our divorce and separation lawyers offer a free, no obligation 15 minute chat.

I am a family solicitor based in our Colchester office and can be contacted on 01206 217378 or Alternatively, you can complete our online enquiry form.