Parental Responsability

Parental Responsibility

What is Parental Responsibility?

Parental responsibility means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent has in relation to the child and his or her property. What does this mean? Parental Responsibility enables a person to make decisions and the right to be consulted about the child’s schooling, serious medical problems and other important decisions which need to be made.

The concept of Parental Responsibility is more than a bundle of rights and responsibilities. It confers a status on the parent which is important both for the child and the parent.

Parental Responsibility exists for the benefit of the child and not for the benefit of the parent.

Who has Parental Responsibility?

Parental Responsibility can be acquired in a number of circumstances, the most common of which are :-

  • the mother, on the birth of the child;
  • the father, who is married to the mother on the birth of the child;
  • the father, on the marriage of the parents;
  • the father, by the parents both agreeing to enter into a Parental Responsibility
  • Agreement in prescribed form;
  • since S.111 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 came into force on 1 December 2003, a father who is not married to the mother at the time of a Child’s birth through registration of the birth

Who else may need to acquire Parental Responsibility?

Step-parents, grandparents or other relatives, may have a child living with them but they do not have Parental Responsibility. The parents of the child cannot simply confer Parental Responsibility on another but it can be acquired by:-

  • On the making of a Residence Order from a Court;
  • Adopting the child;
  • Being made a guardian by a parent with Parental Responsibility

Who is most commonly affected?

Unmarried fathers and step parents are most commonly affected. From 1 December 2003, there are three paths open to unmarried fathers to acquire Parental Responsibility:

  • by becoming registered as the father (ie on the child’s birth certificate);
  • by making a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother in prescribed form;
  • by an order of the court

The Act is not retrospective and therefore many unmarried fathers of a child born prior to 1 December 2003 do not have Parental Responsibility although they may live with the mother and are very actively involved in their child’s upbringing.

A step parent does not gain Parental Responsibility by marrying the child’s parent. Even where the parents of the child agree the step parent should have Parental Responsibility, it is not possible for them to grant that to the step parent by means of a Parental Responsibility Order. The step parent may obtain Parental Responsibility by applying for a Residence Order under the Children Act 1989. A married step parent may have an automatic right to apply, as may a step parent who has lived with the child for three years or more or who has the consent of everyone with Parental Responsibility. The step parent will have Parental Responsibility whilst the Residence Order is in force

What are the benefits of gaining Parental Responsibility?

The step parent is able to do what is reasonable in all the circumstances to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare even when he does not have Parental Responsibility. However, having Parental Responsibility would provide the step parent with the authority to do what is best for the child in the event of the absence of the other parent.

In the event of the parent dying, the other parent with Parental Responsibility will be responsible for the child despite the fact the child may have lived with the step parent for some time. Therefore in the event of the death of the resident parent the child could continue to reside with his or her step parent rather than returning to live with the other parent with whom they may have had little contact for a number of years.

Are the rights of the parents with Parental Responsibility diminished by another being granted it?

The granting of Parental Responsibility should not be seen as a threat and does not diminish the rights of those who already have Parental Responsibility. In particular where parents have never married, the mother may fear the unmarried father will use the granting of Parental Responsibility as a means of interfering with the day to day care of the child. In practice this would not be the case but would enable the father to be involved in such issues as the child’s education, attending parents’ evenings etc. which would be of benefit for the child.

For more information, please contact Julie Wain on 01889 583871 or 01785 211411

Published on web site – April 2007


The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances. (50587)