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Parental responsibility: What is it and how can you get it?  

What is parental responsibility?  

PR constitutes the legal rights and responsibilities parents have for bringing up and looking after their children. This includes naming the child, providing a home for and protecting the child, choosing and providing for the child’s education and agreeing to the child’s medical treatment.  

Who has parental responsibility automatically?  

Married parents have joint PR, which is retained even if they later divorce. Civil partners also hold joint PR. If the child’s parents are not married nor in a civil partnership, only the birth mother has automatic PR.  

How can parental responsibility be acquired?  

  1. By being registered as the child’s father/second parent on the child’s birth certificate, with the mother’s permission.  
  1. By entering into a ‘parental responsibility agreement’ with the mother.  
  1. By applying to the court for a ‘parental responsibility order’.  
  1. By being appointed a guardian by the mother or court (PR is then acquired on mother’s death).  
  1. By obtaining a ‘child arrangements order’ from the court.  
  1. By marrying the mother.  

A local authority can also acquire PR if a care order is made in relation to the child.  

Parental Responsibility Agreement  

This agreement gives the father joint PR with the mother. It must be in the prescribed form, with the signatures of both parents witnessed by either a Justice of Peace, Justice’s clerk or court official who is authorised by a judge to administer oaths, and recorded at Central Family Court with two copies. No fee is payable.  

This cannot be ended by agreement and only ends when the child reaches 18 unless a court order is obtained.  

Step-parents and civil partners can also obtain PR through a parental responsibility agreement, with the consent of all parents with PR.  

Parental Responsibility Order  

If the mother is unwilling to agree to the father sharing PR with her, the father can apply to the court for a parental responsibility order. This will give them joint PR. The civil partner of the child’s parent or step-parent of the child can also apply for a PRO.  

When deciding whether to grant the order, the court will have regard to the welfare principle, non-intervention principle and no-delay principle, meaning the child’s welfare is paramount and that the court will try to avoid unnecessary intervention or delay where possible. Some of the factors the court will also consider are the father’s degree of commitment to the child, the state of the father’s current relationship with the child and his reasons for making an application.  

The PRO will end on the following events:  

  1. The child turns 18.  
  1. The father marries the mother while the child is under 18, so the father obtains PR through marriage.  
  1. A court order discharges the PRO (application can be made by mother or child, where the child has sufficient understanding).  

Child Arrangements Order  

When the court makes a CAO naming the father as the person with whom the child is to live it must also make a PRO in favour of the father if he does not already have PR. If the father is named in a court order as a person with whom the child should spend time or have contact, but not with whom the child should live, it is up to the court whether it would be appropriate to also make a PRO in his favour.  

How can parental responsibility be lost?  

No one loses PR just because another person acquires it as there is no limit to how many people can hold PR for a child at one time.  

There are two situations where parents will lose PR:  

  1. The parent dies.  
  1. The child is adopted.  

An unmarried father or second female parent who acquires PR through PRO or PRA or by registering on the birth certificate can also lose their PR if the court makes such an order.  

Anyone else who acquired PR through a CAO will lose PR automatically when the CAO terminates.  

Who with parental responsibility must agree in order to make decisions regarding the child? 

Subject to a few exceptions, one parent can determine questions such as medical treatment and religion without consulting the other. These exceptions that the courts have set precedent for are surname, sterilisation and circumcision so it is best practice to refer to the court for such disputed issues. In general it is also advisable to consult the other parent and try to reach joint agreement on parenting decisions, to avoid minor disagreements ending up in court. 

It is not possible to transfer or surrender PR, but parents can delegate responsibility on a temporary basis e.g. to a child-minder or school on a school trip.  

Post Author: Phoebe Smithdale