Parental responsibility means the responsibilities and legal rights a parent has for a child. If you have parental responsibility, you are able to have a say in what happens to your child.
All mothers have parental responsibility. Normally, fathers have parental responsibility, too. In some circumstances, other people can also have parental responsibility. We will go into more detail about this in a little while.
A person with parental responsibility should protect and look after the child. They should also provide them with a place to live.
In addition, if you have parental responsibility, you are also responsible for everything from the child’s education to agreeing what medical treatment they can have.
Parental responsibility does not mean an automatic right to see a child.
What parental responsibility does mean is that, if there is a big decision to make about the child, all those with parental responsibility should have a say.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to get agreement to a decision in writing from everyone with parental responsibility.
For example, if one parent wants to move to Spain with the child, the other parent would have to agree to the move in writing. If the other parent won’t agree, it may be necessary to go to court.
More day-to-day decisions concerning a child don’t normally need the agreement of all parties with parental responsibility.
The child’s mother automatically acquires parental responsibility from the moment of the child’s birth.
Normally, fathers have parental responsibility if they are either:
• named on the birth certificate or
• married to the mother of the child
It is possible to make an application to the courts for parental responsibility.
In order to do this, you will need to be connected to the child in some way. For example, you could be the second female parent or the step-parent of the child.
The procedure for getting parental responsibility depends on whether the mother agrees to it or not.
If the mother agrees to you having parental responsibility and you are a father or a step parent, you can fill in a form to take to court in order to have it signed and witnessed. Be aware that there are two separate forms, depending on your relationship with the child.
If the mother does not agree to you having parental responsibility, it is possible to apply for a court order.
As always, it’s highly recommended that you seek legal advice specific to your circumstances. A family solicitor will be able to advise you on the best way to obtain parental responsibility and help you to complete any parental responsibility applications, to ensure that there are no mistakes which could cause unnecessary delays.
People with parental responsibility have a say in what happens to the child for whom they have parental responsibility. For example, if one person with parental responsibility wants to move abroad with the child, anyone else with parental responsibility would have to agree in writing. If the other person with parental responsibility won’t agree to the move, it may be necessary to go to court.
As a result, we are often asked whether it is possible to remove parental responsibility from someone. Usually, this request comes from a parent who is playing an active role in the child’s life, when the other parent is not. This leads to frustration that it is necessary to get the other parent’s consent for important life decisions.
If someone has been granted parental responsibility by means of a court order, this parental responsibility would only apply for as long as the court order remains in force.
It may be possible to make an application to remove someone’s parental responsibility.
However, the courts will only remove parental responsibility in extremely limited circumstances. This could be, for example, to protect a child from serious harm (either emotional or physical). It is very unusual for someone’s parental responsibility to be taken away from them.
The removal of parental responsibility is a highly complex area of law.
Previous cases where someone has been stripped of parental responsibility by the courts, include where a father had inflicted GBH (grievous bodily harm) to the child, a case where a father had been sent to prison for extreme domestic violence and another case where a father called his autistic son “retarded” and tried to delay the child’s medical treatment.
Most importantly, parental responsibility will not be removed simply because the parent is absent or will not see the child. Or indeed because the child does not want to see the parent.
The court may limit a person’s parental responsibility with a prohibited steps order or a specific issue order. These orders will not remove parental responsibility, but can limit the parent’s role in their child’s life (as long as it is in the child’s best interests to do so).
Removal of parental responsibility is reserved only for the most exceptional circumstances
The courts do not take away parental responsibility without extremely good reason, such as protecting a child from serious physical harm. Parental responsibility will only ever be terminated if the court thinks that it is in the child’s best interests to do so. It is important to reiterate that removal of parental responsibility is extremely rare.
If you want the other parent’s parental responsibility removed, it is highly recommended that you seek legal advice from solicitors experienced in this area of law, such as Austin Kemp, who can advise you whether it may be possible – and if not, what other alternatives may be available to you.
If you want to be included in important decisions about your child’s life, but don’t have parental responsibility, you may be able to apply to the court for an order called a “parental responsibility order”.
A parental responsibility order is a court order which unmarried fathers can make an application to the court for, if the mother does not allow the father to be named on the birth certificate. Alternatively, an unmarried father may apply for a parental responsibility order if the mother will not sign a parental responsibility agreement.
In some instances, unmarried fathers may not have parental responsibility (more about this on our parental responsibility page).
One of the ways an unmarried father may be able to obtain parental responsibility (if they don’t already have it), is to get a parental responsibility order from a court.
Parental responsibility 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”.
If you have parental responsibility for a child, the other parent must include you in important decisions about the child’s life.
Parents who do not have parental responsibility, may want to apply for a parental responsibility order.
Sometimes, however, it may not be necessary to go to court to get a parental responsibility order.
If you’re a father or a step parent, as long as the mother agrees, you can both complete a parental responsibility agreement, instead. This will need to be taken to a family court, where it will be signed and witnessed.
If the mother does not agree, going to court to ask for a parental responsibility order may be necessary.
As well as unmarried fathers, other people who are connected to the child, such as their step-parent, may be able to apply for a parental responsibility order.
It is worth noting here, that more than 2 people are able to have parental responsibility for a child.
If you want to get a parental responsibility order, you will need to apply to the court. The cost of a parental responsibility order is £215 at the time of writing.
In some circumstances, mediation (where an independent third party aids discussions between you and the other parent, with the aim of reaching an agreement) can help parents to reach an agreement about parental responsibility, without the need to go to court for a parental responsibility order.
As always, it’s highly recommended that you seek legal advice from a solicitor experienced in this area of law, before applying to the court for a parental responsibility order.
Our expert family law solicitors can help you with a range of legal issues relating to parental responsibility, including:
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