Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility is a legal term that carries significant weight in the UK.

It refers to the rights and duties that biological parents, or adults who obtain parental responsibility by other means, have towards their children.

But what does it truly mean to have parental responsibility in the UK? In this article we look at the legal implications of parental responsibility, the obligations it imposes, and the rights it grants. We will also explore who has parental responsibility and how it can be acquired or challenged.

Understanding Parental Responsibility

It is defined in the Children Act 1989 and is a legal concept that is central to family law in England and Wales.

It encompasses the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority that a parent has for a child.

It is not about the rights of parents, but about their duties towards their children and it applies to all aspects of a child’s life, from education and health to welfare. This includes decisions about where the child lives, their education, and their medical treatment.

Parental responsibility is a commitment that lasts until the child turns 18.

Who Has Parental Responsibility?

Both biological parents do not automatically get parental responsibility.

Birth Mothers

In England and Wales, birth mothers automatically have parental responsibility, and this is the case regardless of the mother’s marital status.

Fathers Married to Birth Mothers

For fathers, the situation is slightly different. Married fathers automatically have parental responsibility if they are married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth. This applies even if the couple later divorces.

Unmarried Fathers: Named on the Birth Certificate

For unmarried fathers, acquiring parental responsibility is not automatic.

One way for an unmarried father to gain it is by being named on the child’s birth certificate.

This applies to births registered in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland after December 1, 2003, and in Scotland after May 4, 2006.

Unmarried Fathers: Not Named on the Birth Certificate

It is always advisable for unmarried fathers to seek legal advice to understand their rights and responsibilities. In some cases, parental responsibility may need to be acquired through legal agreements or court orders as it does impact on a fathers’ rights.

Same-Sex Marriages

In the UK, same-sex couples who are married or in a civil partnership are treated the same as opposite-sex couples when it comes to parental responsibility.

For same-sex couples who are married or in a civil partnership:

  • A biological mother will automatically have parental responsibility.
  • Same-sex partners will both have it if they were married or civil partners at the time of the treatment, eg donor insemination or fertility treatment.
  • If one parent is the biological parent and the other parent is not, the non-biological parent can acquire it through a parental responsibility agreement or a Court order.
  • In cases of adoption, both parents in a same-sex couple can gain parental responsibility through the adoption process.

It’s important for same-sex couples to understand their rights and responsibilities regarding children, and seeking legal advice can help clarify any questions or concerns they may have.

How to Acquire Parental Responsibility

Firstly, it’s important to outline who can apply.

  1. Biological fathers who are not married to the birth mother
  2. Spouses or civil partners of the birth mother
  3. A child’s second mother

The Parental Responsibility Agreement

For unmarried fathers, civil partners and spouses, and second mothers, if the birth mother agrees, parental responsibility can be obtained via a Parental Responsibility Agreement. This involves completing the Parental responsibility Agreement: C(PRA1) form which must be signed in front of witnesses and submitting it to the Court for approval. It is highly recommended to seek legal advice before submitting the forms to ensure both parties fully understand the rights, obligations and commitments they are undertaking.

The Parental Responsibility Order

If the birth mother does not agree to the Parental Responsibility Agreement then Court intervention maybe required. The parent seeking parental responsibility must apply to the Court.

When making a Parental Responsibility Order, a court will consider various factors to determine the best interests of the child. Some of the key considerations include:

  1. The child’s welfare and well-being.
  2. The existing relationship between the parent seeking parental responsibility and the child.
  3. The ability of the parent to meet the child’s needs and make decisions in their best interests.
  4. Any potential risks or concerns that may affect the child’s welfare.
  5. The views and wishes of the child, depending on their age and maturity.
  6. Any relevant circumstances or evidence presented to the court.

These factors help the court assess whether granting the Order is in the child’s best interests and will contribute to their overall welfare and development.

The Impact of Adoption

When a child is adopted, the adoptive mother, father or both gains parental responsibility as part of the adoption process.

The biological mother and the biological father give up their rights and responsibilities as part of this process.

Grandparents and Guardians

A Special Guardianship Order is a court order that can be granted to grandparents or guardians in specific circumstances where the child’s parents are unable to care for them adequately. This order gives the grandparent or guardian parental responsibility for the child, allowing them to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing but unlike adoption, this arrangement keeps a link between the child and his or her natural parent(s). The process for obtaining a Special Guardianship Order may vary depending on the situation, and it’s advisable to seek legal advice to understand the rights and responsibilities associated with this order fully.

Separated Parents and Differing Opinions

In cases of separated parents, parental responsibility remains with both parents even after separation but what happens when parents cannot agree? It’s crucial for separated parents to communicate and cooperate in the best interests of the child, even if they no longer live together. If there are disagreements, mediation or legal advice can help resolve issues while keeping the child’s well-being a top priority. If legal advice and mediation fails then Court Intervention maybe required which may result in a Child Arrangement Order, Specific Issue Order or a Prohibited Steps Order.

Can Parental Responsibility be taken away?

It can be given away by a parent via the adoption process however, parental responsibility is not easily taken away. In the UK, parental responsibility can only be removed by a Court Order in exceptional circumstances. The Court would need to be convinced that it is in the best interests of the child to remove parental responsibility. Situations where parental responsibility may be taken away include cases of abuse, neglect, domestic violence or other serious issues that could harm the child. Local Authorities can obtain parental responsibility for a child via a Care Order but for a private individual it’s a complex route to take. It’s important to seek legal advice if you are considering applying for the removal of parental responsibility.

Here to Help

The article above only provides a very basic overview of parental responsibility so if you are seeking or refusing parental responsibility of a child it’s important to seek legal advice from a family law solicitor.

We pride ourselves on being friendly and approachable so if you need advice from one of our friendly solicitors, please do get in touch by calling 0208 889 3319 or via one of the options below.

The first introductory call is free and enables you to outline your circumstances and for us to explain how we can help. Our team are friendly and approachable and are always happy to answer your questions.

If you have a question about our services, please use our online form to send us an email.

If you need to speak with someone you will always receive a friendly welcome if you telephone between the hours of 9am-5pm but if we are closed, you can  request a callback. We will call you back as near to your requested time as possible.

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