What is Parental Responsibility and How to Obtain It?

What is Parental Responsibility and How to Gain It?
Legally reviewed by: Shakeela Bi Updated: In: Family

What is Parental Responsibility?

Section 31(1) of the Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as ‘all rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent or child has in relation to the child and his property’.

A parent who has parental responsibility is recognised as having the legal powers to make any appropriate decisions regarding the upbringing and wellbeing of their child. This legal power not only is granted for parents but can be extended to others such as:

  • the local authority (for children in their care)
  • a child’s guardian
  • a child’s stepfather
  • the child’s grandparents
  • other relatives (under the right circumstances)

What Rights Does Parental Responsibility Grant?

Parental responsibility grants the right to make any decisions regarding the upbringing or wellbeing of your child. This might include:

  • Contacting your child’s doctor to discuss medical treatments.
  • Having a say in your child’s education, such as which school the child attends.
  • Changes to the child’s legal name and under what circumstances.
  • Permission to take the child outside of the UK on a long trip or holiday.
  • Whether or not the child will be raised in a certain religion.

Who Has Parental Responsibility?

A child’s birth mother automatically has parental responsibility unless this has been removed through an adoption order or a parental order following surrogacy.

If a child’s mother and father were married at the time of the child’s birth, both parents have parental responsibility. However, if the child’s father was not married to the birth mother when the child was born, parental responsibility can be obtained by:

  • registering the child’s birth jointly with the mother.
  • subsequently marrying the child’s mother.
  • through a ‘parental responsibility agreement’ between him and the child’s mother that is registered with the court.
  • obtaining a court order.

Whereby two female parents have a child through fertility treatment, the mother’s female partner is treated the same way as a father. This means, she also has parental responsibility if she is married or in a civil partnership with the mother at the time of the treatment, or if the two women have a written agreement that she will be the child’s second parent. Aside from this, parental responsibility can be obtained in the same manner as a father.

Additionally, people who are not the child’s biological parents can acquire parental responsibility.

Civil partners have parallel rights to married people in terms of parental responsibility. The same provisions for married people apply to them in terms of acquiring and holding parental responsibility: adoption, agreement with their civil partner or by an order from the court.

Finally, a local authority acquires parental responsibly under section 33(3) of the Children Act 1989 if it is named when a care order is made in respect of a child.

Who Can Apply for Parental Responsibility?

The following can apply:

  • Unmarried fathers
  • Second female parents
  • Spouses or civil partners of a parent

In some cases, other people can gain parental responsibility by way of a Child Arrangements Order or by being appointed as a child’s guardian or special guardian. Furthermore, a Local Authority can acquire responsibility for a child through a Care Order.

How Long Does a Parent Have Parental Responsibility?

Unless discharged, parental responsibility runs until the child reaches 18 years of age. However, as a child gets older, their opinions and decisions will hold increasing weight and it’s important for a parent to acknowledge the child’s feelings and opinions when decision making.

How Decisions are Made When Both Parents Hold Parental Responsibility?

When it comes to making a joint decision regarding your child, there are no set rules. However, the following matters should be agreed between both parents holding parental responsibility:

  • Removing the child from the jurisdiction for more than 28 days
  • Decisions regarding a serious medical operation
  • Changing the child’s surname
  • Changing a child’s school

S2 (7) of the Children’s Act 1989 states that when more than one person has parental responsibility for a child, each of them act alone and without the other(s) in meeting the needs of the child. However, case law states that in certain circumstances, parents are under a duty to consult with each other to come to an agreement regarding the child’s best interest.

How Can an Unmarried Father Obtain Parental Responsibility?

There are several ways in which a father can apply for parental responsibility. These are:

Criteria For a Father in Order to Gain Parental Responsibility?

Although Section 4 of the Children Act does not detail the criteria a father must meet to gain parental responsibility. Despite this, the Court of Appeal’s decision in Re H (Illegitimate Children: Parental Rights) 1991, addressed this question and has the following factors have remained important to decision making ever since:

  • The level of commitment which the father has shown towards the child (this can be illustrated by financial support, pursuing contact, and keeping arrangements, present at birth, having one’s name on the birth certificate, involvement in the child’s education etc).
  • The status of the birth father is not in dispute.
  • The level of attachment existing between the father and the child.
  • The intention for the father’s application.
  • Any other relevant factors.

What To Do If You Are Being Denied from Seeing Your Child?

In some cases, although holding parental responsibility, you may still be denied from seeing your child and you may not be able to reach an agreement with the other parent. In this case, you will require the Courts to make a Court Order, known as a Child Arrangement Order.

A Child Arrangement Order will often determine how often and when you can see your child. This is based on the circumstances of your case and a list of other factors, for example:

  • If any previous contact taken place.
  • Where the parties live.
  • The ages of the children
  • (Dependant on age) the views of the children.

During decision making, the court will base all decisions on what they deem to be in the best interest of the child.

Can Parental Responsibility be Taken Away?

It is not common for parental responsibility to be revoked. However, there are some circumstances where this can occur such as cases where abuse has been present or if the child is adopted.

Under very rare circumstances, a person with parental responsibility might make an application to take this away from someone else. The success of this application depends on how parental responsibility was first gained.

Resolving Disagreements Between Parents

Where parents both hold parental responsibility, decisions regarding their child’s life need to be in consent of one another. However, parents do not always agree about what’s best for their child.

In situations where a decision regarding the child cannot be agreed upon, the first step is for parents to attempt mediation to resolve the issue.

In stations where mediation cannot resolve the issue, those with parental responsibility may need to apply for one of the following court orders:

  • Child Arrangements Order: To decide on issues including where the child will reside and what level of contact, they will have with each parent.
  • Specific Issue Order: Where a parent makes an application to the court to establish a legally binding decision on a specific issue relating to the child’s upbringing.
  • Prohibited Steps Order: Where one parent is aware that the other is planning to take an action related to the child’s upbringing such as, taking them out of the country, and they do not agree with that decision, the opposing parent can apply for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent the action.

A solicitor will be able to advise you on what route is best to take. For more advice on family law in the UK, call our family solicitors on 03458 941 622 or request a call back using our online form.

Legal Disclaimer.

All advice is correct at time of publication.