Parental Responsibility

What is parental responsibility it? Do I hold it? How do I achieve it?

As a client going to see their family solicitor for the first time about a child related dispute, it’s almost inevitable you’ll be asked this question with reference to either yourself or former partner, and, probably within the first 5-10 minutes of the meeting. You might wonder what the solicitor means or even what the relevance or importance of having parental responsibility for your child is.

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is defined in law under the Children Act 1989, s3(1) 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.”

Practical examples of the exercise of parental responsibility include participation in decisions related to your child’s education and schooling, religious upbringing, permanent or temporary removal from the jurisdiction (England and Wales), and consent to medical treatment. If you’re a parent who holds parental responsibility for your child, participation in decision-making regarding your child (such as with the above examples) may well prove difficult or impossible, especially where the child’s other parent does not welcome your participation.

Do I hold parental responsibility?

Having established the meaning and importance of parental responsibility, the next question is whether you or your former partner hold this for your child. A mother of a child always holds parental responsibility: this is automatic upon the child’s birth. However, as a father you will only hold parental responsibility if you were:

  • Married to the child’s mother, either at the time of the child’s birth, or afterwards
  • Named as father on the child’s birth certificate at registration (but only where the child was born after 1st December 2003).

How do I achieve parental responsibility?

If after reading the above you’ve established that you don’t hold parental responsibility for your child, you may well be concerned. However, don’t worry: there are several ways of achieving parental responsibility, with some being more straightforward than others. The available options will be subject to whether the child’s mother consents to you acquiring parental responsibility or otherwise.

Ways of acquiring parental responsibility are as follows:

  • Marrying the mother (clearly this is not usually an option for clients who are instructing a solicitor following their relationship breakdown)
  • Inclusion as named father on birth certificate following a re-registration process
  • Entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
  • Obtaining a parental responsibility order from the court
  • Obtaining a residence order for the child, which automatically brings parental responsibility

There are also possibilities for step-parents acquiring parental responsibility for a child of their spouse or civil partner. If you’d like to discuss this, or any other issue around parental responsibility, our family law specialists are available to advise you.

Call us on freephone 0800 138 0458, or complete our contact form and we’ll call you back.

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