There is often confusion about who, legally, has parental responsibility for a child. Senior family lawyer Lucy Jones explains what the law says.
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What is parental responsibility?
The Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property“.
So, from a practical point of view, having parental responsibility means having the right to make important decisions regarding a child’s welfare and upbringing. That includes (but is not limited to):
- registering or changing their name.
- consenting to medical treatment and accessing their medical records.
- where they should go to school.
- determining their religion, if any.
- consenting to somebody taking the child abroad.
- representing the child in legal proceedings.
- appointing a guardian in the event of both parents with parental responsibility dying.
Who has parental responsibility?
In England and Wales, a mother automatically has parental responsibility.
A father married to or in a civil partnership with the mother at the child’s birth automatically has parental responsibility. This right is retained if the parents subsequently divorce or on the dissolution of their civil partnership.
Also, since 1 December 2003, a father not married to or in a civil partnership with the mother at the time of the child’s birth but registered on the birth certificate also has parental responsibility.
An unmarried father who does not appear on the birth certificate acquires parental responsibility if he:
- subsequently marries or enters a civil partnership with the child’s mother.
- has his name registered on the birth certificate.
- enters into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the child’s mother.
- obtains a Parental Responsibility Order from the court.
- obtained a Residence Order from the court before 22 April 2014.
- is named as the resident parent under a Child Arrangements Order.
Adopted parents have parental responsibility from the date of the Adoption Order. An Adoption Order also removes parental responsibility from the birth mother and anyone else who previously had it.
A second female parent married to or in a civil partnership with the birth mother at the time of conception has parental responsibility unless:
- conception was the result of sexual intercourse; or
- they did not consent to the birth mother conceiving.
Who can apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order?
A person without parental responsibility can apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order if they are the child’s:
- father and do not otherwise qualify.
- second female parent and do not otherwise qualify.
It’s permissible for more than two people to have parental responsibility for a child.
Can a grandparent acquire parental responsibility?
Grandparents acquire parental responsibility for a grandchild on the making of a Child Arrangement Order in their favour.
Can I delegate parental responsibility?
Although it’s permissible to delegate certain aspects of the responsibility of looking after a child to a partner, relative, friend, teacher, or childminder, the person with parental responsibility ultimately must ensure that proper arrangements are made for the child.
A child’s temporary carers do not have parental responsibility. However, they may nevertheless do what is reasonable in all the circumstances to safeguard the child or promote their welfare.