Katie Beal

Senior Associate, Department Head

Family and Matrimonial

Parental Responsibility

Katie Beal

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is defined in law by the Children Act 1989 as:

‘…all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and the child’s property.’

People with parental responsibility are entitled to have a say in major decisions about the child, such as:

1.       the removal of a child to another part of the country or the removal or a child out of England and Wales for a holiday or permanently

2.       Adoption

3.       what name they should have

4.       the giving or withholding of medical treatment, and

5.       dealing with their money or property

6.       making a decision about a child’s education

7.       what religion they should practice

Parents can exercise parental responsibility independently of each other so, for example, Parental Responsibility does not entitle someone to interfere with day-to-day decisions such as what the child wears, their hobbies or choice of TV programmes etc. There are, however, circumstances when consent is needed from the other people who have Parental Responsibility. Examples of which are the removal of a child to another part of the Country or outside of England and Wales and changing their surname.

Parental responsibility lasts until the child reaches 18 or marries between the ages of 16 and 18. You might hear parental responsibility referred to as ‘PR’.

Who has parental responsibility?

A child’s mother automatically has parental responsibility and does not lose it if she and the child’s father separate, whether or not they were married.

A father who is married to the child’s mother when the child is born will automatically have parental responsibility. A child’s father can also acquire parental responsibility by marrying the mother after the child’s birth and re-registering the birth with the father being named on the birth certificate. Parental responsibility is not lost on divorce.

Fathers of children born after 1 December 2003 who are not or have not been married to the child’s mother will have parental responsibility if they are named on the birth certificate of the child. Fathers of children born before 1 December 2003 who were or are not married to the child’s mother may not have parental responsibility. It can be obtained by agreement with the child’s mother or by court order (see below).

Certain court orders can confer parental responsibility for a child. A person obtaining parental responsibility through a court order does not have to be a parent of the child.

How do I gain parental responsibility?

For children born after 1 December 2003 where the parents were not and have not been married, it is possible to re-register the child’s birth to add the father’s name to the birth certificate. This gives the father parental responsibility.

Parental responsibility can be granted to a father by written agreement with the child’s mother. A parental responsibility agreement is a legal document that must be signed and witnessed by a court officer. To be effective, it must also be filed at the Principal Registry of the Family Division (the main family court in London). A step-parent can also acquire parental responsibility by agreement.

If agreement is not possible, a father can apply to court for a parental responsibility order. The child’s mother can oppose the application and put forward her reasons for doing so. When considering whether to allow a father to have parental responsibility, a judge will consider the father’s commitment and attachment to the child, and whether his reasons for applying are genuine.

Parental responsibility may also be granted when the court makes a child arrangements order.

For Step-Parents where a child’s parent who has parental responsibility is married to, or is the civil partner of a person who is not the child’s parent then both parents with parental responsibility may enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the step-parent or on the application of the step-parent the court may order that the step-parent have parental responsibility of all those who already have parental responsibility.

Exercise of parental responsibility

Where an issue arises about a specific question regarding any aspect of parental responsibility for a child or how a person exercises their parental responsibility for a child, an application may be made to the court for either a specific issue order or a prohibited steps order. Alternatively, disputes may be dealt with within the context of an application for a Child Arrangement Order. 

For more information, please contact our family team on 0115 9888 777. 

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