What is parental responsibility?

The legal definition of parental responsibility comes from the Children Act 1989 which defines it 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 child’s property.’

A child’s birth mother automatically has parental responsibility, as does the father, if the parents were married at the time of birth or have married since. Unmarried fathers will also have parental responsibility, but only for children born after 1 December 2003, and if they are named as the father on the child’s birth certificate.

You will also acquire parental responsibility automatically if you adopt a child; but in most other circumstances – including if you became an unmarried father before 1 December 2003, or since that date, but weren’t named on the birth certificate – you will have to apply to the court for a parental responsibility order.

Importantly, where parents have separated or divorced, the non-resident parent will retain parental responsibility. The resident parent may seek an agreement to end this situation as part of a child arrangement order, but in the majority of cases – as long as it does not compromise the child’s safety or welfare – the family court is keen for both parents to be actively involved in the decisions surrounding a child’s upbringing.

Who can apply for a parental responsibility order?

In order to ensure that suitable people have control over the important aspects of a child’s life, the law allows a number of people to apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order, including:

• Unmarried biological fathers: who can also acquire parental responsibility either by entering into an agreement with the biological mother, or by subsequently marrying the biological mother

• Step parents, grandparents, civil partners and same-sex partners: who can all acquire responsibility either through adoption, or by being appointed a Guardian, usually after the death of someone who previously held PR for a child

• Special guardians: these are appointed by a court to ensure a child is properly looked after, and have the power to over-rule other people with parental responsibility should it become necessary

• Local authorities: who acquire parental responsibility, usually after issuing Care Proceedings successfully

If you believe that you should have parental responsibility for a child and want to hear more about applying for a parental responsibility order from a family law expert,

you can talk to one of our friendly experts today by calling 020 8771 5000 or contact us online today and we will call you