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Responsibility of children

Parental responsibility is defined as all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authorities which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and the childs property. What is not widely recognised is the fact that not all biological parents automatically have parental responsibility and that it is not only biological parents that can acquire it. 

What is Parental Responsibility?

Anyone with parental responsibility can be involved in decisions about a childs upbringing. These important decisions include:

  • The name of the child (this includes their surname and any changes to this).
  • Their living arrangements including feeding and clothing.
  • Choosing their religious beliefs. If there is a mix of beliefs, then the child should be exposed to both religions until old enough to decide for themselves.
  • Determining their education and the school they will attend as well as having access to school reports.
  • Giving consent to medical treatment and procedures and having access to medical records.
  • Appointing a guardian if the parents die.
  • Giving consent to the child being taking abroad for holidays or longer periods.
  • Representing the child in court.
  • Disciplining the child.

Where the parents cannot agree on a decision, then they should try and resolve the matter using methods such as family mediation, which is more likely to be amicable. If this is not possible then the person can apply to the courts for a Specific Issue Order or a Prohibited Steps Order.

Who has Parental Responsibility?

Parental responsibility can either be automatic or acquired depending on the persons relationship to the child and their marital status.

Automatic cases of Parental Responsibility

The biological mother will always have automatic parental responsibility for a child. The situation is not always the same for the biological father, who will only have automatic parental responsibility where one of the following criteria are met:

  • He was married to the mother at the time of the birth or at a later date.
  • Where he was named as the father on the birth certificate at the time the birth is either registered or re-registered (this applies from December 2003).

Where the biological mother is married to/in a civil partnership with a female partner at the time of conception then this person will also have parental responsibility if the conception was not a result of sexual intercourse. 

Who can apply to Court for Parental Responsibility

There are other parties that do not automatically qualify for parental responsibility but who can apply to the Court for an order granting it. Once granted it must be exercised jointly with the mother and anyone else that has parental responsibility. The people that can do this are:

  • Unmarried fathers that are not named on the birth certificate.
  • Step parents if they can show there is a degree of commitment and attachment to the child and it is in the childs best interests.
  • Grandparents if they can also show the above.
  • Guardians appointed by the courts to look after the child.
  • Local authorities, usually this applies where a child is in local authority care.

An unmarried father can also gain parental responsibility by obtaining a Residence Order before 22 April 2014, or after this by being named as the resident parent in a Child Arrangements Order.

Can you lose Parental Responsibility?

Parental responsibility ends in relation to all children when they reach the age of 18 years. It can also end earlier by a court order where this is in the childs best interests, but this is extremely rare. The application can be made by someone with parental responsibility as well as the child if they understand the issues. Removing parental responsibility from an unmarried father is possible but is only done in extreme cases, and even then, fathers have retained parental responsibility even where there is evidence of abuse. It is only possible to remove parental responsibility from the biological mother or married father with an adoption order.

What about separated parents?

Parents that are married or in a civil partnership will not lose their parental responsibility if they divorce or separate- it does not matter that they are not living with their child. However, as stated above, unmarried fathers that are not named on the birth certificate will not automatically have parental responsibility. This means that the mother will be able to make all decisions in relation to the child, including where they live, and the father does not have any input. To get around this issue, the father can either get a:

  • Parental Responsibility Order from Court.
  • Voluntary Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother.

Where both parents have parental responsibility, then neither can take the child abroad without the consent of the other or a court order allowing it. However, if one parent has a Child Arrangements Order, then they can take the child abroad for up to a month without the consent of the other parents with parental responsibility. 

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.


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