What is parental responsibility?
Parental responsibility (PR), in law, is a term that determines your legal rights, responsibilities and authority with regard to your children. You can only make most decisions relating to your children if you have parental responsibility.
A parent with PR is entitled to delegate this responsibility to other adults temporarily, for example, to grandparents or new partners. This is not the same as legally sharing PR at all times.
Who has parental responsibility?
More than two people can share parental responsibility for the same child. All mothers automatically have PR for their children, but not all fathers.
A father will automatically share PR with the child’s mother if he was married to her when the child was born (even if they later divorced) or if he’s named as father on the child’s birth certificate (for births registered after 1 December 2003) by jointly registering the child’s birth with the mother.
A father can otherwise acquire PR by:
- Subsequently marrying the child’s mother
- Getting a formal parental responsibility agreement signed with the mother
- Getting a parental responsibility order from a court
Modern family life commonly includes step-parents. Whilst never replacing a parent, they usually become another significant adult in a child’s life. A step-parent can develop a strong bond and attachment with a child, yet have no legal standing in any decision making for the child, for example, not being able to consent to medical treatment if needed.
A step-parent can share legal parental responsibility by formal agreement signed with the child’s mother. If the child’s father also has PR, he must also consent and sign the agreement.
Same sex parents
For same sex parents, you’ll both share parental responsibility if you’re civil partners at the time of treatment. If you’re not civil partners, the non-biological parent can share PR either by formal signed agreement or court order.
If you and your partner used a surrogate to have a child, you will need to apply for a parental order.
Parental responsibility, once granted, only comes to an end by order of the court terminating it or the child turning 18 years of age.
Parental responsibility agreement
This is a formal document which needs to be properly completed to take legal effect. It must be signed in front of a court official on production of photographic evidence to confirm your identity and signature.
The completed agreement will not take effect until it has been lodged and recorded in the Central Family Court in London. Sealed copies will be issued once recorded.
What must I do if I have parental responsibility?
If you have parental responsibility, you must ensure that your child has a home and is looked after. That doesn’t mean to say that the child has to live with you. If they don’t live with you, you don’t automatically have a right to contact, but your child’s other parent should keep you informed of their health and well-being.
You must financially support your children whether you have parental responsibility or not and even if you don’t get to spend time with your children.
As a parent with parental responsibility, you have a say in your child’s:
- Medical treatment
- Name or change of name