On this page, we explain parental responsibility, including what it is, what parental rights it provides and who is entitled to apply for it.
The information on this page is relevant to England and Wales only. Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own rules.
Click a link below to jump to the relevant section:
- What is parental responsibility?
- What rights does parental responsibility give me?
- What rights don’t I have?
- Who has parental responsibility and who can apply for it?
- What is a parental responsibility agreement?
- What is a parental responsibility order?
- When does parental responsibility end?
- Who’s responsible for paying child maintenance?
- How much does it cost to get parental responsibility?
What is parental responsibility?
The term “parental responsibility” (PR)is used to mean the legal rights, responsibilities, duties and authority you—as a parent—have in respect of your child.
It applies to all mothers and most fathers—see Who has parental responsibility? below.
What rights does parental responsibility give me?
Parental responsibility means that, by law, you’re entitled to have a say in any decisions made about aspects of your child’s life. This includes decisions about:
- your child’s education, and where they go to school
- the religion your child is brought up with (if any)
- your child’s health and any medical treatment they receive (such as vaccinations)
- whether your child can leave the country, whether on holiday or to live permanently
- changing your child’s name
You can make everyday decisions about your child whenever they spend time with you. For example, what time they go to bed, what they’re allowed to eat etc. There’s nothing in family law that says you must get the other parent’s agreement first, even if they have PR and you don’t.
Although it’s always best for both parents to consult and agree on what is appropriate on a day-to-day level, if you don’t agree you can’t force your case on the other parent.
What rights don’t I have?
Parental responsibility doesn’t give you an automatic right to:
- have contact with your child—by law, this is the child’s right
- know where your child (and the other parent) is living—although you can apply to the court to have this information disclosed to you
Who has parental responsibility and who can apply for it?
By law, all mothers automatically have PR from when the child is born. However, not all fathers do—see Fathers below.
More than two people can share parental responsibility for the same child.
You automatically share PR with your child’s mother if you:
- were married to her, even if you later divorced
- were not married but are named as father on the child’s birth certificate (for births registered after 1 December 2003; for births before that date, you have to apply for PR)
In all other cases, you have no automatic right to PR. However, you can get it by:
- marrying the child’s mother
- applying for it—this involves going through the court and getting a parental responsibility order
- signing a parental responsibility agreement
Step-parents (including unmarried partners)
Step-parents are very common in modern family life. As a step-parent, it’s likely you and the child have developed a strong bond, and yet you have no legal standing when it comes to making decisions about them (for example, you can’t consent to medical treatment).
If you want to share PR for the child, you need to sign a formal parental responsibility agreement with the child’s mother. If the child’s father also has PR, he must also give his consent and sign the agreement.
Both same-sex parents share PR if you were in a civil partnership at the time the child was conceived through donor insemination either at a licensed clinic or by private arrangement at home.
If you weren’t civil partners at the time of conception, but you conceived through donor insemination (also called artificial insemination) at a licensed clinic, both same-sex parents share PR.
Otherwise, the non-birth mother can obtain PR:
- by signing a parental responsibility agreement
- by applying for a parental responsibility order through the court
- via adoption
Read more about donor insemination at the NHS’s website
If you and your partner had a child via a surrogacy arrangement, you’ll need to go to court to apply for a parental responsibility order.
As a grandparent, you don’t have automatic parental responsibility, so to obtain it you’d need to make an application to the court. See Who can apply for parental responsibility? below.
You might want to seek legal PR because:
- your grandchild is living with you
- there’s a dispute about where the grandchild should live
- you have serious concerns about the child’s welfare and how their parents are caring for them—social services might be involved too
If you’re asking the court to decide whether your grandchild should live with you, the judge will use the welfare checklist set out in a law called the Children Act 1989 to make their determination. This checklist asks that they consider:
- the child’s:
- wishes and feelings
- physical, emotional and educational needs
- age, sex, background and any other characteristics relevant to the court’s decision
- how the change in circumstances would likely affect the child
- what harm the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering
- whether the child’s parents are capable of fulfilling their parental rights and responsibilities
The court’s main consideration will be your grandchild’s welfare, and it won’t make an order unless it’s necessary and appropriate.
Read more about grandparents’ rights on this page
What is a parental responsibility agreement?
This is a legal agreement made between the child’s mother and either:
- the unmarried father
- a step-parent
- a second female partner
The agreement is to give them PR of the child, without the need to go to court for a parental responsibility order. Both parents must agree for it to be enforced.
It involves filling out a form, which must then be:
- signed and witnessed by a justices’ clerk or court officer
- filed at the Family Division of the High Court
Without this, it won’t be legally binding.
What is a parental responsibility order?
If you and the other parent or step-parent are unable to come to an agreement on whether they should have PR—and have this ratified in a parental responsibility agreement—you can apply to the court for a parental responsibility order.
The court’s main priority is to protect your child’s welfare, so it will decide whether it’s in the child’s best interests for the other parent or step-parent to have PR. The court will consider:
- why the parent is applying for PR
- whether he or she has demonstrated the appropriate level of commitment to be granted PR
- the level of attachment between the parent and child
A court will typically grant an unmarried father PR, unless it has a strong reason not to do so.
When does parental responsibility end?
Parental responsibility comes to an end:
- when the child turns 18
- if the child is adopted
- at the time of the parent’s death
- if a parent obtained PR through a child arrangements order or a residence order (before April 2014) and:
- the order has expired
- a court has discharged it
Parental responsibility agreements and orders can only be terminated through a court order.
Can a mother lose parental responsibility?
A mother can only lose her PR when other parents adopt her child. The court can restrict the use of PR by a court order.
Can a father lose parental responsibility?
Yes. The court can remove a father’s PR or restrict it. How depends on whether or not he’s married to the child’s mother.
If you and the child’s mother ARE married
If you and the child’s mother AREN’T married
The only way you can lose PR is if the child is adopted.
You can lose PR:
See below for further information.
If a court decides to terminate your PR
The child’s mother or social services can apply to the court for your PR to be terminated. The court will do this only if it deems it’s in your child’s best interests to do so.
This applies whether your PR came through:
- a parental responsibility agreement
- a parental responsibility order
- being named as the father on the child’s birth certificate
However, these applications tend to be uncommon, and it’s very rare for a court to discharge a PR agreement or revoke a PR order.
If you’re an unmarried father and your PR was granted through a parental responsibility agreement or parental responsibility order, or through being named as father on the child’s birth certificate, the child or any other person with PR can apply to the court to have the PR terminated. If a child is making this type of application, they first need the permission of the court.
If a court cancels a special order that gave you PR
If you obtained PR through a special guardianship order(a court order appointing a guardian for the child), or a child arrangements order named you as the person the child will live with, you can lose your PR if the court later cancels that order.
Who’s responsible for paying child maintenance?
As a parent, you have a duty to pay towards your child’s upbringing, even if you don’t have PR or spend any time with your child. This is known as child maintenance or child support.
Read more about child maintenance on this page
Do step-parents have to pay child maintenance?
A step-parent would only have a legal duty to pay child maintenance if they had adopted the child via an adoption order.
How much does it cost to get parental responsibility?
Solicitors’ fees vary from firm to firm. As Graysons charges on an hourly basis, we recommend contacting us for an accurate quote using the details at the bottom of this page.
There is a court fee of £215 for applying for a parental responsibility order through the courts.