Guide to Parental Responsibility

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility (PR) is defined as all the rights, duties, power, responsibilitiesand authorities a parent has in relation to their child and the child’s property. It is the power given to parents to make important decisions for the child often relating to where the child lives, their education, health and medical treatment, religion, name and going abroad (permanently or on holiday).

Who has parental responsibility?

There are a number of people who have parental responsibility for a child including:

  • Mothers – biological (birth) mothers automatically have PR for their child.
  • Married fathers – biological fathers married to the birth mother atthe time of birth or after the birth of the child.
  • Unmarried fathers – biological fathers of children born after December 2004 whose name is on the birth certificate.
  • Civil partners of mothers and married lesbian couples - if the child was conceived by artificial insemination on or after 6 April 2009 and you were in a civil partnership your civil partner will automatically have parental responsibility for the child. Similarly, if you were married to your same-sex spouse and the child was conceived by artificial insemination your spouse will automatically have parental responsibility for the child. Both names should be added to the birth certificate and your child will have no legal father.

How can an unmarried father who does not automatically have PR obtain it?

An unmarried biological father can acquire PR in one of three ways:

  • By entering into a PR agreement with the mother of his child.
  • By the court making a PR order - an unmarried biological father has the right to apply to the court asking for a PR order.
  • By subsequently marrying the mother - if the biological father marries the biological mother of his child after the birth, the father will acquire PR.

What about non-parents?

Other people can also acquire PR for your child. These might include step-parents, grandparents or same-sex partners. Non-biological parents can acquire PR for a child if:

  • They adopt the child.
  • They are appointed as a guardian of the child.

A person or persons with PR can appoint another person or persons to be the child’s guardian after his or her death. The appointment can be made in writing (and must be signed and dated) or in a will. The appointment of a guardian will only take effect if:

  • There is no other person with PR for the child.
  • he parent who made the appointment was named as the person with whom the child lives in a child arrangements order at the time of the death and the surviving parent was not also named as a parent with whom the child shall live.
  • The parent who made the appointment was the child’s only special guardian.
  • The court makes a child arrangements order stating that the child is to reside with her or him.
  • The court makes a special guardianship order.

Married step-parents and civil partners

Married step-parents and civil partners can acquire PR for a step child or child of the family by either entering into a PR agreement or by asking the court to make a PR order.

Local Authorities

A local authority can acquire PR for a child if the court makes a care order, emergency protection order or interim care order in respect of that child. The Local Authority will then share PR with anyone else who has PR for the child but the Local Authority can overrule any decisions that they do not feel are in the child’s 'best-interests'.

What will the court consider in a PR application?

The court will always place the welfare of the child and their 'best-interests' first.

In particular when deciding whether a father should have PR the court will consider:

  • Whether the father has shown sufficient commitment to the child to justify giving him PR.
  • What the level of attachment is between the father and the child and his reasons for applying for PR.

It is more likely than not that the court will give an unmarried father PR. The courts generally take the view that it will further a child's welfare to have both parents involvedin the child's life, unless shown otherwise.

Maintenance and PR

Even if a father does not have PR, he is still required to financially support his child. Paying maintenance does not give a biological father PR or entitle him to have it. Nor should the fact that a father does not pay maintenance be used as a reason to withhold PR.