Parental Responsibility addresses all the important issues surrounding where a child or children will live, contact arrangements, holidays abroad and more.

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A mother will always automatically have parental responsibility (PR) for her child from the moment it is born. In contrast, a father will have PR if he is either married to the mother at the time of the child's birth, or, if not married, he meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • He is listed on the child's birth certificate (after 1 December 2003 in England & Wales, or 4 May 2006 in Scotland).
  • He obtains a parental responsibility agreement with consent from the mother
  • He is granted a parental responsibility agreement from the family court

It should be noted that a sperm donor does not qualify for parental responsibility.

Step-parents and other family members

Step-parents may apply for step-parental responsibility either by agreement from all those with PR or through a court order.

Sometimes it is appropriate for other family members to have PR such as grandparents or adult siblings to obtain PR.

All those with PR will have responsibility equally with each other – no one parent has a greater share of PR, even if the child lives with them.

Same-sex couples joined through civil partnership or marriage are also be able to obtain parental responsibility in the same way as unmarried fathers.

PR only applies once a child has been born and does not apply while the child is in utero. A child can have no more than two legal parents, and one will always be the biological mother (unless the child is later adopted) who must be on the child's birth certificate.

What is parental responsibility?

According to the Children Act 1989 PR is "all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to a child and his property". These include:

  • Providing a home for the child
  • Having contact with the child
  • Protecting and maintaining the child
  • Disciplining the child
  • Determining and providing the child's education
  • Determining the religion of the child
  • Consenting to the child's medical treatment
  • Naming the child or agreeing to the child's change of name
  • Consenting to the child's marriage (if between 16 and 18)
  • Agreeing to the child's adoption
  • Vetoing the issue of the child's passport
  • Taking the child outside the jurisdiction of the UK and consenting to the child's emigration
  • Administering the child's property
  • Representing the child in legal proceedings
  • Appointing a guardian for the child
  • In the event of death, burying or cremating the child's corpse
  • Allowing the child to be interviewed
  • Allowing the child to have blood taken
  • Allowing confidential information relating to the child to be disclosed

The scope and limits of parental responsibility

There are a number of decisions either parent can take independently of the other without consultation or notification. These include those that relate to the following:

  • How children spend their time during contact periods
  • Personal care of the children
  • Activities undertaken
  • Religious and spiritual activities
  • Continuation of medication prescribed by a GP

There are a number of decisions either parent can take independently but of which they must inform the other. These include those relating to the following:

  • Medical treatment in an emergency
  • Visits to a GP and the reasons for them
  • Booking holidays or taking the child abroad during contact time

There are a number of decisions which must only be taken following consultation. These include those relating to the following:

  • Selecting a school and applying for admissions
  • Contact rotas during school holidays
  • Planned medical and dental treatment
  • Stopping medication prescribed by a GP
  • Attendance at school functions (so the parents may avoid meeting each other wherever possible)
  • The age at which children are allowed to watch age-restricted DVDs and video games

The removal of parental responsibility

PR can only be removed from a mother if the child is legally adopted by adoptive parents. In the case of fathers, PR can only be removed if the child is legally adopted by adoptive parents, or if a court removes it following an application from another person with PR. Cases of the latter are rare and courts only take this action if not to do so would cause detriment to the child. Examples may be if the father sexually abused the child or is a dangerous criminal or has a history of violence.

Find a family law solicitor with Oratto

Understanding the rights and obligations inherent in parental responsibility is an important part of being a parent.

Whether you are seeking a court order in respect of your child or are seeking to obtain PR either as a father, co-parent, step-parent or other relative, Oratto can help. Our membership includes many of the UK's leading family law solicitors who can advise and represent you on all matters relating to this area of the law.

Call us today on 0845 3883765 to speak with an adviser for free, or email us

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