Parental Responsibility: What is it and who has it?

Parental responsibility (PR) is defined as the legal rights, duties, powers and responsibilities a parent has with regards to the upbringing of a child. PR entitles a parent to make important decisions on matters concerning a child’s upbringing, ie where they should go to school, whether or not they should have a medical treatment, where the child should live, what religion they follow etc.

A child may not be removed from England and Wales nor can a child’s name be changed without the consent of all people holding PR for the child.

Mother
The child’s mother automatically acquires PR for her child from birth.  This cannot be removed, suspended, or altered in any way or at any time, whatever other orders are made.

Father
The child’s father also has automatic PR if he was married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth.

In circumstances where the child’s parents were not married at the time of the child’s birth the child’s father can acquire PR by one of the following:-

  • By being registered as the child’s father on the child’s birth certificate (after lst December 2003),
  • By entering into a PR agreement with the child’s mother,
  • By applying to the court for an order that he shall have PR,
  • By obtaining a child arrangements order for the child to live with the father (previously known as a residence order). The court will when making a child arrangements order also make an order granting PR to the father at the same time.

Additionally, the unmarried father may acquire PR for his child:

  • by marrying the child’s mother,
  • by being appointed as the child’s guardian
  • adopting his child

Step-parents
It is now possible for step-parents (or civil partners in the case of same sex
couples) to enter into PR agreements (with the consent of all those who already have PR) or to apply to the court for PR for their stepchildren.

It is possible for more than one person to hold PR in respect of a child and merely
because one person acquires PR, does not automatically extinguish anyone else’s PR.

If more than one person does share PR, it is better if an agreement can be reached between the parents about significant decisions in relation to the child(ren). If a dispute cannot be resolved amicably by agreement between the parties who hold PR then an application can be made to the court.

It is always in the best interests of the children if parents can resolve matters amicably without court intervention.

Special Guardians
The court may in certain circumstances grant a Special Guardianship Order for or a child to live with a person who is not the child’s parent ie grand-parents, family relatives or friends.  A special guardian is granted PR which will over-ride the PR of the biological parents if there is a disagreement on any issue concerning the child(ren). This gives them the right to make decisions about child(ren)’s upbringing without having to always consult the parents first.

If you are unsure about your legal rights you should seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity.