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26 January 2015

Parental Responsibility: What does it mean and who has it?

What is parental responsibility? All mothers and most fathers have legal rights and responsibilities as a parent, known as parental responsibility. Parental responsibility gives parents rights to make important decisions in their child's life. For example, naming the child and agreeing to any change of name; choosing and providing the child's education; agreeing to a child's medical treatment; the child's religion; and disciplining the child. If a parent has parental responsibility for a child they do not have contact with, the parent with whom the child lives has a duty to keep the other parent up to date about the child's wellbeing and progress.

Who has parental responsibility?

A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth (unless surrendered through adoption).

Married parents

A father has parental responsibility if he is married to the child’s mother at the time of birth, or later becomes married to child’s mother.  Both will retain parental responsibility if they later divorce.

Unmarried parents

In respect of unmarried parents, if the child was born on or after 1 December 2003 and the father is listed on the birth certificate, he will have parental responsibility.

If the child was born before 1 December 2003, only the mother will automatically have parental responsibility.  An unmarried father can, however, acquire parental responsibility through one of the following:

  • Subsequently marrying the mother of the child;
  • Entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother’s consent;
  • Obtaining a parental responsibility order from the Court;
  • Applying to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order;
  • Being appointed the child’s guardian.

Emma Alfieri, Chartered Legal Executive in Steeles Law’s family law team and specialist in divorce, separation and children matters, commented: “Whilst it can be difficult,  making arrangements for the children following separation or divorce should be done in an amicable way, if possible.  Family mediation must always be considered if matters in relation to children cannot be agreed between the parties.  Court intervention should always be a last resort.”

For further advice in respect of parental responsibility or advice relating to children, please contact us.