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Parental Responsibility

The legal rights and duties to raise your children are called Parental Responsibility. Whether you or not you have Parental Responsibility will affect whether you can make major decisions for your children. Although a child can only have two legal parents, any number of people can have Parental Responsibility, including grandparents.

Our highly experienced child law solicitors can provide advice on your parental rights and responsibilities and help you acquire Parental Responsibility if you do not have it.

We are committed to promoting happy, healthy family life. We will put the welfare of your children first at all times and provide as much advice and support as you need to protect their happiness.

There’s no set definition of ‘family’. We are one of the few family law firms to specifically cater to LGBT+ individuals and couples. We also have particular expertise in providing Parental Responsibility advice to grandparents, single parents and families who have used artificial insemination or surrogacy to expand their families.

Get in touch with our friendly and experienced children law solicitors by giving us a call or filling in our simple online enquiry form.


    Parental Responsibility FAQs

    What is Parental Responsibility?

    Parental Responsibility means the rights, powers, and duties someone has to make decision about their child’s upbringing and day-to-day care. It is not the same as legal parenthood. A child can only have two legal parents, but any number of people can have parental responsibility, including a local authority (if the child is taken into care).

    People with Parental Responsibility are in charge of making important decisions about a child’s life, including:

    • Where the child lives
    • Who the child spends time with
    • What medical treatment the child should or should not have
    • Where the child goes to school
    • What religious education (if any) the child should have
    • Their name
    • Whether they can go abroad, either on holiday or to live permanently

    Only the birth mother is guaranteed Parental Responsibility from birth. If the circumstances are right, the father or female partner is likely to automatically acquire Parental Responsibility without having to take any extra steps (beyond, for example, being married to the birth mother).

    If you do not automatically acquire Parental Responsibility, you may be able to acquire it in other ways, such as by entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the birth mother.

    What is the difference between parenthood and Parental Responsibility?

    Children can only have two legal parents. Usually this will be their birth mother and their father or female second parent. The exception to this is in cases of surrogacy where the birth mother’s legal parenthood will usually be transferred to the biological mother and her partner using a Parental Order made by the court.

    Usually, the legal parents will be the only ones to have Parental Responsibility for their child. However, more than two people can acquire Parental Responsibility, such as:

    • Grandparents (in certain circumstances)
    • Step parents
    • A local authority (if the child is taken into care)

    Who has Parental Responsibility?

    The person who gives birth to the child automatically get Parental Responsibility, even if it is a surrogate who gives birth to the child.

    The following people also automatically get Parental Responsibility along with the birth mother:

    • Fathers who were married to the birth mother at the time of birth
    • Female civil partners who were in a civil partnership with the birth mother at the time of birth in certain circumstances
    • Unmarried fathers and female partners who are registered on the child’s birth certificate as a parent on or after 1 December 2003

    When does Parental Responsibility end?

    Parental Responsibility ends when the child turns 18 years old or at 16-17 years old if they get married. However, as your child gets older, their wishes become increasingly important in the eyes of the law. For example, a teenager will usually be able to make their own decisions about medical treatment, including contraception, without having to tell their parents. They will also have a larger say in where they want to live during any divorce or dissolution proceedings.

    Other than this, Parental Responsibility doesn’t end by itself. For example, if you get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution and the child goes to live with your former partner, you won’t automatically lose Parental Responsibility and will still have an important part to play in your child’s upbringing.

    Can a father lose Parental Responsibility?

    If the parents were unmarried at the time of the child’s birth, the mother can ask the court to terminate a father’s Parental Responsibility in very limited circumstances. This is usually only in cases where the father is found guilty of a violent or sexual crime against a child or in serious cases of domestic violence. For example, in a 2018 court case, a father’s Parental Responsibility was terminated because he repeatedly blocked his child’s medical treatment.

    However, a court won’t remove a father’s Parental Responsibility just because he is convicted of an offence or receives a prison sentence. The circumstances must be particularly extreme, putting the child at risk of serious emotional and/or physical harm.

    A father also won’t lose Parental Responsibility because:

    • The child does not want contact with him
    • He does not want to see the child
    • He refuses to pay child maintenance
    • He has ‘deserted’ the family

    Where the parents were married at the time of the child’s birth, the court does not have the power to remove the father’s Parental Responsibility. However, they can severely limit it by making a Prohibited Steps Order which essentially has the same effect as removing it.

    How do I get Parental Responsibility?

    Unmarried fathers can get Parental Responsibility in several ways, including:

    • Marrying the mother
    • Getting his name put on the birth certificate
    • Entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother
    • Getting a Parental Responsibility Order from the court
    • Being named the resident parent under a Child Arrangements Order

    Unmarried same sex second parents can also get Parental Responsibility in several ways, including :

    • Getting a Parental Responsibility Order from the court
    • Marrying the mother or entering into a civil partnership then making a Parental Responsibility Agreement
    • Being named the resident parent under a Child Arrangements Order

    What is a Parental Responsibility Agreement?

    A Parental Responsibility Agreement is a contract that you can enter into with your child’s mother to grant you with Parental Responsibility.

    You can get Parental Responsibility this way if you are:

    • The child’s father, you are not married to the mother and your name is not on the birth certificate
    • In a civil partnership or a same sex marriage with the mother

    The Agreement grants you all the same rights and duties as the mother.

    What is a Parental Responsibility Order?

    A Parental Responsibility Order is a court order that unmarried fathers can apply for if the mother refuses to allow him to be registered as their child’s father on their birth certificate or will not enter into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with him.

    The Order bestows Parental Responsibility upon the father, allowing him the right to contribute towards the child’s upbringing.

    How do I apply for a Parental Responsibility Order?

    To apply for a Parental Responsibility Order you need to make an application to court and pay a court fee (unless you are eligible for help with your court fees). As your solicitors, we would handle all aspects of the court application on your behalf, including representing you at any hearings.

    How can a grandparent get Parental Responsibility?

    While Grandparents’ involvement is considered very important for a child’s emotional development, they do not usually have Parental Responsibility. However, there may be a situation where your grandchild cannot live with their parents or you feel it is in their best interests to live with you.

    To be able to make important decisions about your grandchild’s day-to-day care, you need Parental Responsibility. To obtain it, you will need to make an application to court for ‘leave’. If granted, you will have the right to have your case heard. As with all decisions about children, the court will only make an order if it is in the child’s best interests. To make this decision, the court will consider a list of factors called the ‘welfare checklist’ that includes things like:

    • The child’s age, sex, background and other characteristics
    • Their physical, emotional and educational needs
    • Their ascertainable wishes and feelings
    • The capability of the parents and grandparents to fulfil the child’s needs
    • Whether the child is at risk of harm
    • Whether a change in circumstances would negatively affect the child

    CAFCASS may also be asked to get involved with the family and to produce a report. If living with you is in the child’s best interests, the court will make an order. Parental Responsibility will usually automatically be granted with this order.

    Get in touch with our child law solicitors today

    Do you need advice about Parental Responsibility? Whether you simply need advice about your rights or you need to take legal action in respect of a child, we are here to help.

    Get in touch with our friendly and experienced children law solicitors by giving us a call or filling in our simple online enquiry form.

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