Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility is a term introduced by the Children Act 1989 and is defined as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority, which by law a parent has in relation to a child and his/her property”.

Having parental responsibility means you are entitled to have your say in major decisions regarding the child.

The Children Act does not provide a detailed list of these rights and duties but it includes:

  • the right to give consent to medical treatment;
  • to be consulted and make decisions as to religious upbringing, education and where a child lives
  • to make a decision about a child’s name

It also enables you to make day to day decisions regarding a child’s upbringing but practically these decisions will be made by the parent the child lives with.

You have parental responsibility until the child is 18 or if they marry between 16 and 18.

With most major decisions you have a duty to consult each other. However, there are 3 areas where decisions cannot be made without the other’s agreement or the Court’s permission. This is in relation to change of name, taking a child outside of the UK and, the more unusual situation, where a child is to be sterilised.

The only proviso to this is that, if, however, you have a Child Arrangements Order stating that the child lives with you then you are entitled to take the child out of the UK for up to a month without seeking the other parent’s consent although it is advisable to keep them informed. If you have a Special Guardianship Order in your favour this time extends to 3 months.

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How do I acquire parental responsibility?

a) Where the parents are male and female

If the parents are unmarried, the mother automatically has parental responsibility. If the parents are married at the time of the child’s birth or if they subsequently marry then the father also has parental responsibility. After divorce, they both still retain parental responsibility.

The unmarried father has parental responsibility if his name was entered onto the birth certificate at the time of registration provided that the birth was registered in the UK and registration took place after 1st December 2003.

If the birth was re-registered and his name was added by consent he will acquire parental responsibility. However, he will not acquire parental responsibility if the birth was re-registered as a result of obtaining a declaration of parentage from the Court.

An unmarried father can also acquire parental responsibility by entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother (there are strict procedures to follow to complete this); by marrying the mother; or by applying to the Court for parental responsibility.

In considering whether to grant that application the Court will look at his commitment, attachment to the child and reasons for applying. Unless he is thought to be a risk to the child or the mother the application is usually successful.

b) Same-sex female parents

The law relating to acquisition of parental responsibility here only applies where the child is conceived by artificial insemination.

Upon birth, the woman who has carried the child has parental responsibility.

i) If the parents were in a civil partnership or marriage at the time of conception then the other female becomes the other legal parent and has parental responsibility, unless they did not consent to the treatment. The natural father has no rights.

ii) If the parents were not in a civil partnership or marriage at the time of conception, the other female partner only becomes the other parent, if the treatment took place at a UK licensed clinic and they both sign parenthood election forms. She needs to add her name to the birth certificate to acquire parental responsibility (in the same way as an unmarried father above). Alternatively she can acquire parental responsibility if they both sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement (on the prescribed form) or by an Order of the Court. In this situation, if the treatment was not at a licensed clinic, the birth father retains his rights and the other female parent does not acquire parental responsibility.

c) Same-sex male parents

Where the child is carried by a surrogate, the intended parents will need to apply for a parental order within 6 months of the child’s birth. That will give them both parental responsibility and the natural mother’s rights will cease.

A civil partner or step-parent can acquire parental responsibility by entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the consent of all the natural parents or by order of the Court.

It is also possible to acquire parental responsibility if you have a Child Arrangements Order confirming that a child lives with you or if the Court has given you parental responsibility within the order. You would have parental responsibility for the duration of the order.

Finally, a parental order made after surrogacy automatically confers parental responsibility on the parents.

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