What is Parental Responsibility?

Family Law|March 24th 2015

As most mothers or fathers will confirm, becoming a parent is a momentous event. The focus of your life changes, shifting onto this new person you have brought into the world. But along with all the worries and responsibilities that accompany steering someone all the way from childhood into adulthood, being a parent can also bring a new sense of purpose in life. Not to mention plenty of fun too.

One of the functions of family law is legally defining some of the personal fundamentals of life, things that may, at first glance, do not seem to need any definition, and that includes the role of the parent. Of course such definitions do matter when it comes to those grey areas and uncertainties that life always throws up.

What are the most common reasons parental responsibility is applied for?

The role of parent is defined in law as ‘parental responsibility’, and this in turn is defined under 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”.  Although it includes things such as the requirement to house a child and protecting and caring for a child, parental responsibility as a legal concept usually arises when a separated or divorced parent wants to be involved in decisions relating to a child’s upbringing.  The most common kinds of circumstance in which parental responsibility (or PR) applies are:

  • Naming the child and registering their birth and consenting to any change of name.
  • Determining the religion, if any, of a child.
  • Determining how and where a child should be educated.
  • Consenting (or refusing consent) to a child’s medical treatment, such as a major operation.
  • Determining where a child should live and whether they should be able to move abroad with the other parent.

Who has Parental Responsibility for a Child?

Automatic Parental Responsibility

The mother of a child always automatically has PR. The father of a child may or may not automatically have PR, depending on their circumstances.

If the parents were married when the child was born the father automatically has PR.

If the parents were not married but the child was born on or after 1 December 2003 and the father is named on the child’s birth certificate, he will have PR.

Acquiring Parental Responsibility

If the parents were not married at the time of the birth but later marry, then the father acquires PR by way of that marriage, although please note this does not apply to step-parents.

However, if you are a step-parent, it is possible, and sometimes advisable, to obtain parental responsibility for your partner’s child or children. For example, if the child were to fall ill or suffer an accident in your care and both your partner and the other parent were not available, you could be involved in any required medical treatment.

Step-parents are able to acquire PR through the agreement of all the other people with PR in the child’s life .  This would be done by completing a form, signed by both parents, and witnessed by a court official. Alternatively step-parents can apply through the courts for PR.

If the child was born on or after 1 December 2003 and the father’s name is, at a later date, inserted onto a child’s birth certificate and the birth is re-registered, then the father will acquire PR.

If the father (or indeed any person) has a child arrangements order stating that the child lives with him (previously known as a ‘residence order’), he will hold PR for the child for as long as that order is in place.

If none of these circumstances apply, it is possible to acquire PR by preparing a ‘parental responsibility agreement’ or by on an application to the courts.

The partner of a mother having a baby by assisted reproduction, regardless of whether the partner is male or female, will have PR if they are either married or in a civil partnership at the time of the birth or subsequently become so. If they are not married or civil partners or do not subsequently marry or form a civil partnership, the other parent can acquire PR by agreement or application to the courts.

If the parents of a child are able to agree that the father who does not currently have parental responsibility should hold it, a parental responsibility agreement can be entered into.  The parents complete a form that can be obtained from the courts or through www.gov.uk. It is signed by both parents in the presence of a court official and grants the father PR without the need to go through a more formal court process.  This is something your solicitor can assist with if you are unsure. This can, however, only be done with the co-operation of both parents and sometimes the other parent will not agree to the other parent having PR. In these circumstances, the father would need to make an application to the court for a parental responsibility order.

When the courts consider an application for parental responsibility and whether a father should be awarded PR, they take into account the commitment the father has shown to the child, such as spending time with him or her. They will also consider the degree of attachment between the child and father and his reasons for wanting PR.  The court will ultimately make its decision based upon what is in the best interests of the child.  Provided the father already has a relationship with the child in which he spends time with him or her on a regular basis, it is more common than not for the court to grant PR.

When does parental responsibility become relevant?

In order to do certain things in relation to the child, you must obtain the consent of anyone else with parental responsibility.  As mentioned above, such circumstances include changing the child’s name, determining which school they should attend and taking them abroad.  Unless there is a court order in place which states otherwise, parents should obtain the consent of anyone else with PR even for short holidays abroad. But it should also be noted the courts would generally look rather dimly upon a person with PR trying to restrict a legitimate and reasonable request for a holiday.

Parental responsibility concerns the more important things in a child’s life.  It is not designed to interfere with day-to-day concerns, such as what a child might eat or how they dress.  Those sorts of decisions are the responsibility of the parent who has care of the child at that time and parents should generally be trusted to look after a child in an appropriate way exercising their own discretion on such issues.  Therefore separated or divorced parents are not required to discuss and agree the minutiae of every aspect of a child’s life – agreement is only necessary on the important aspects of their childhood.  Of course parents should endeavour to discuss and agree as much as they can on how their children should be parented, from the tricky issue of discipline right through to when they go to bed.

Can parental responsibility be lost or taken away?

You do not “lose” Parental Responsibility by reason of you separating or divorcing from the other parent or if the child no longer lives with you.  It is therefore very important that parents, even when separated or divorced, continue to consult each other on important issues.

Parental responsibility can in fact only be removed in some very limited circumstances. It is lost if a child is adopted and can also be removed by the courts in some extreme cases when a parent is found guilty of neglect or abuse of very serious kinds.

However, such removals are rare.

Other Issues to Note

What parents must be aware of is that whether a parent has parental responsibility or not does not affect their duty to maintain a child. Therefore if a child lives with its mother, the parents were never married and the father is not named on the birth certificate, that father must still pay the statutory rate of child maintenance and the mother can pursue this whether the father has PR or not.

Katie is a solicitor based in the Stowe Family Law Wetherby office. She has experience of dealing with various aspects of family law but has focused predominantly on resolving disputes relating to children, divorce and the division of matrimonial finances and has experience of cases involving domestic violence.

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  1. DrGrumpy says:

    I had a real struggle to prove that I had PR for my three sons. It would appear that this fact was not recorded in their medical records held by their GP. I was married to their mother at the time of their births but I had to prove this which took time and money as I had to obtain legal copies of all three birth certificates! If the birth mother automatically has PR why not the biological father? We live in an age of IT and yet I still have to prove my right to PR!

  2. Luke says:

    “What parents must be aware of is that whether a parent has parental responsibility or not does not affect their duty to maintain a child. Therefore if a child lives with its mother, the parents were never married and the father is not named on the birth certificate, that father must still pay the statutory rate of child maintenance and the mother can pursue this WHETHER THE FATHER HAS PR OR NOT.
    This is absolutely indefensible, if a woman wants child maintenance then under any reasonable and civilised setup he MUST by default be given PR (if he hasn’t got it already) – and the fact that this doesn’t automatically happen in the way that it does for women is a perfect example of the horrible bias Family Court has against men.

    • Gelli says:

      This in fact the crux of the issue, as it has come about by a corruption of the common law, the duty of a father to pay his child maintenance is derived from the common law, correlative to this duty is the right and authority over custody of his person which is the reciprocal justification between the two, or better put, with the power of custody comes the duty to maintain, it does not take a legal scholar to work out that removing the power and right of custody, removes the duty to maintain and shifts that duty on to who then acquires it, the absurdity of this is further elucidated when we look at how Mothers were traditionally left without power and rights and only ” reverence and respect” and that in that case rather than facilitating shared custody, in which the Father retains custodial power (even if reduced) and retains his duty of maintenance, the Law Commission decided to usurp the common law right of the Father altogether and vest it into not the Mother but in fact the State, I could go into the 17th century origins of Parens Patriae and the reasons why this is a fraud (as Hargrave and Abramowicz et al have pointed out) but that would require a few pages, its a simple correlation between rights and duties, you cannot ignore and interfere with rights and enforce duties, this is the thin end of the wedge, Tyranny in the guise of Protector, If we were well informed of the legal history in England we would see that the corruption that plagued infants and Parents under the Court of Wards and Liveries in the 16th century (until its abolition) is not too dissimilar to the Gravy train today that attracts the same motivated entities within the Family Court and its associated Government Agencies, all vying for a slice of the cake.

  3. Peter Leevers says:

    A woman leaves her husband and has a child with someone new. No divorce in process or planned, still good friends. It would appear that her husband will have PR despite father signing the birth cert. As public law proceedings are possible this is quite a worry. However, getting divorced and remarried in mid pregnancy isn’t a great idea either!

  4. warriors says:

    Its simple and its plain, the family court will rinse every penny out of you,with other People involved, the mother could have FULL PR and the Father of the children and even their children and there property are not protected . Its highly illigal to take someones PR when they had it at the very being for their children. ALL Rules of law an egs state that.

  5. Yvie says:

    Here’s a way to lose parental responsibility. Mother remarries and persuades the children that their new stepfather is a far better father than their biological father has ever been. Result – the children no longer wish to see their biological father. The father ends up with no input whatsoever into the lives of his own children. He still pays CSA though – father despised but his money isn’t. Its called alienation and it should be a criminal offence.

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