What is Parental Responsibility and who has it?

What is parental responsibility?

Most parents have a duty to protect and maintain their children and provide them with a home; this duty is known as ‘parental responsibility’. There are also certain rights which come together with the responsibilities of parental responsibility, such as the right to decide on various aspects of the child’s upbringing including medical treatment and schooling.


Who has parental responsibility?

A mother automatically has parental responsibility.

A father automatically has parental responsibility if he is married to the mother at the date of the birth or when a child is adopted. Alternatively, if he is registered as the father on the birth certificate (for births after 2003), he will have parental responsibility.

In the case of same-sex partners, they will both have parental responsibility if they were married or in a civil partnership at the time of conception (eg following fertility treatment) or when an adoption order is granted.


When is parental responsibility needed?

There are various decisions concerning the upbringing of a child which only those with parental responsibility can make, including:

  • Choice of schooling (eg if the child should go to a religious school)
  • Types of medical treatment which can be administered (eg the right to consent to or refuse certain treatments) and access to medical records
  • Deciding where the child should live
  • Taking the child abroad requires agreement with everyone who has parental responsibility


How can you get parental responsibility?

Unmarried fathers

Biological fathers who were not married to the mother at the time of birth and are not on the birth certificate, can obtain parental responsibility by:

  • Re-registering the birth to include their name on the certificate
  • Marrying the mother and re-registering the birth
  • Creating a parental responsibility agreement

Alternatively, if there is a dispute between parents, it may be possible to apply to the court for a parental responsibility order.

Non-biological fathers

Non-biological fathers, and same-sex partners who were not married or in a civil partnership at the time of the child’s birth, need to create a parental responsibility agreement and obtain the agreement of the mother and also the biological father (if they have parental responsibility).

Grandparents and Guardians

Grandparents do not automatically have parental responsibility. They can gain parental responsibility through a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order.

If a guardian is appointed in the will of the mother (or parent with parental responsibility), upon their death the guardian will obtain parental responsibility of the child. A grandparent can be appointed as a guardian.


What is a parental responsibility agreement?

Parental responsibility agreements are made between the mother (or parent with parental responsibility) and the person who wants to obtain parental responsibility. In order to be legally binding, it must be signed and witnessed officially and filed at the Principal Registry of the Family Division. To find out more about creating a parental responsibility agreement ask our family law team.


What happens to parental responsibility following a divorce or separation?

Parental responsibility does not end upon divorce or separation; if both parents had parental responsibility when they were together, they will continue to do so once they have divorced or separated.