Who has parental responsibility?

A child’s mother always has parental responsibility and this cannot be removed, suspended or altered, except when an adoption order is made

The Children Act 1989 introduced the term parental responsibility. It is defined 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.”

Further guidance issued when the Children Act came into force stated that parental responsibility is concerned with “bringing the child up, caring for him and making decisions about him.”

Parental responsibility allows you to:

  • Name the child
  • Choose the child’s religion
  • Make arrangements for education
  • Consent to medical treatment or the taking of blood for testing
  • Consent to the child being taken temporarily out of England and Wales, for example on holiday
  • Administer the child’s property

Who has parental responsibility?

A child’s mother always has parental responsibility and this cannot be removed, suspended or altered, except when an adoption order is made. She shares responsibility with the child’s father if they are married when the child is born and will continue to do so regardless of whether they live together or remain married.

If the father is not married to the mother, he can acquire parental responsibility if:

  • He marries the child’s mother
  • He is named on the child’s birth certificate (if registered after December 1 2003)
  • He and the mother enter into a parental responsibility agreement
  • He obtains a parental responsibility order from the court
  • He obtains a residence order from the court

Fathers who acquire parental responsibility share it with the mother until the child reaches 18, unless an adoption order is made.

Registration on the birth certificate of a child born before December 1 2003 did not give the father parental responsibility, but it may be persuasive evidence to support a subsequent application for a court order.

Other people can share parental responsibility for a child if they obtain a residence or special guardianship order. For example, a step parent can enter into an agreement with the child’s mother and birth father if he himself has parental responsibility. A local authority can also acquire parental responsibility by obtaining a care order.

What is a parental responsibility agreement?

Unmarried parents may be placed in the same position as married couples by entering into an agreement to give the father parental responsibility. To be effective, the agreement must be made in a particular form and be filed with the court. Once granted, it may only be brought to an end by the court.

What is a parental responsibility order?

If an agreement cannot be reached, an unmarried father who is not named on the child’s birth certificate can apply to the court for a parental responsibility order.

When considering an application of this type, the court’s primary consideration is the child’s welfare and that making such an order is in its best interests. The kinds of things taken into account are:

  • The commitment the father has shown towards the child
  • The relationship that exists between them
  • The reasons for applying

What do I do now?

Our experienced specialists lawyers understand the worry and distress conflicts involving children can cause and approach all matters sensitively and sympathetically, for the benefit of all concerned.

We advise and represent children, parents, other family members and foster carers at all stages of the process. This starts from the earliest involvement of social workers and includes meetings, case conferences and any subsequent care or related proceedings, as well as the adoption process.

Useful Resources - Downloads

Parenting Plan (docx)



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Michaela Evans

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