Tag: Parental responsibility
Most parents have legal responsibilities for their child, regardless of their relationship with their child’s other parent. It’s important to understand exactly how parental responsibility works so that you can do what’s in the best interests of your child – whatever your relationship with their other parent.
This page explains the rights and responsibilities of parents who live apart. It tells you who’s responsible for the care of a child and who has a say in things like where they go to school and where they live.
What parental responsibility involves
All mothers and most fathers have a responsibility to care for their child – called parental responsibility. Both parents have a legal duty to pay towards their child’s upbringing, whether they have parental responsibility or not.
If you have parental responsibility, your most important roles are to protect your child and give them a home. You’re also responsible for:
- Deciding where your child lives
- Agreeing to your child’s medical treatment
- Choosing how and where your child is educated
- Which, if any, religion your child follows
- Choosing and registering your child’s name
- Deciding whether your child can leave the country, whether for a holiday or permanently – see our page on going on holiday for more
Routine, day-to-day decisions can be made by whoever is looking after the child at that time. They don’t have to be agreed with everyone who has parental responsibility.
Even so, it’s helpful to agree on things like discipline, bedtimes and homework – especially if the child spends time at both parents’ homes. It’s also good to talk to the other parent if one of you wants to introduce a new partner to your child. But you can’t stop the other parent from doing this, unless the new partner would be a risk to your child.
Important decisions like where the child lives and goes to school have to be agreed by everyone with parental responsibility. And anything major – like if one of you wants to move abroad with your child – has to be agreed in writing.
If you can’t agree, you can try family mediation. If mediation doesn’t work, you can apply to the court for an order. There are 2 types:
- A specific issue order – to look at a specific question about how your child is being brought up – like their school or religion
- A prohibited steps order – to stop the other person from making a decision about your child’s upbringing
A judge will then decide what’s best for your child.
Who has parental responsibility?
Certain people automatically have parental responsibility:
- All birth mothers
- Fathers who were married to the mother at the time the child was born or are named on the child’s birth certificate
- Second female parents who were married or in a civil partnership with the birth mother when the child was conceived
Who can get parental responsibility?
If the biological father wasn’t married to the mother when the child was born and isn’t on the birth certificate, he can get parental responsibility in a number of ways.
Reregistering the birth of the child
If the father isn’t on the birth certificate and the mother agrees, both have to go in person to the register office to reregister the birth. If this isn’t possible, you can download a declaration of parentage form or get one from the register office.
Making a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
This is a formal written document made using a special form – see parental responsibility agreements below.
Applying to the court for a parental responsibility order
If the mother doesn’t want the father to have parental responsibility, he can apply to the court for an order. See parental responsibility orders below.
Being named as the person the child lives with under a child contact arrangements order
Marrying the mother
Married and civil partnered step-parents
Step-parents don’t automatically get parental responsibility if they marry or civil partner with a child’s parent. They can get parental responsibility by:
Making a parental responsibility agreement
This formal written agreement must include both the parent that they’re in a relationship with and the child’s other parent if they have parental responsibility. See below for more.
Applying to the court for a parental responsibility order
If a child’s other parent has parental responsibility and won’t agree to give the step-parent parental responsibility, the step-parent can apply to the court for a parental responsibility order. See below for more.
Adopting the child
Adopting a child ends the legal relationship between them and their other natural parent, so think carefully about the impact of this. They’ll lose all maintenance and inheritance rights from that side of the family as well. Family Lives has more on adopting stepchildren.
Other carers who aren’t parents
Grandparents, family members and other carers can get parental responsibility by:
- Getting a child arrangements order – this names them as the person the child lives with and they’ll have parental responsibility while the order is in place
- Being appointed as a guardian – see below
- Becoming a special guardian – someone who becomes a special guardian will share parental responsibility with the child’s birth parents but can make most decisions without their agreement
- Adopting the child – adoptive parents automatically get parental responsibility and the birth parents lose parental responsibility
3 ways to get parental responsibility
Parental responsibility agreements
Agreeing to share parental responsibility through an agreement avoids having to go to court to get an order.
Everyone involved will need to fill in a form and then sign it at your local family court, so that it can be witnessed by a court officer. You’ll need to take a copy of your child’s birth certificate and proof of identity.
If you’re struggling to agree parental responsibility, see our page on help when you can’t agree.
Parental responsibility orders
If it’s impossible to agree on parental responsibility, a parent or step-parent can apply to the court for an order.
The court will decide if it’s in the best interests of your child for the parent or step-parent to have parental responsibility. Unmarried fathers are usually given parental responsibility, unless there’s a very good reason for them not to have it.
When making their decision the court will consider:
- Whether the parent has shown themselves to be committed enough to the child to justify having parental responsibility
- The level of attachment between the parent and child
- The reasons for applying
Appointing a guardian
If you have parental responsibility, you can choose someone to be a legal guardian for your child after you die. Their grandparents, siblings or step-parents wouldn’t automatically become their guardian in this instance. This would be decided by a court, unless someone has been named. You can appoint a guardian through a will or in writing, as long as it’s signed and dated.
If you’re the only person with parental responsibility
The guardian you name for your child would be appointed as soon as you die. They’d have priority over the surviving parent, if there was one.
If your child’s other parent wanted your child to live with them, they could challenge your decision by applying to the court for an order. They’d be asking the court to decide that your child should live with them instead of the guardian. The court would consider what would be best for your child.
If you and your child’s other parent both have parental responsibility
Either parent can name a guardian, and the guardian would only be appointed after both parents have died. If your child doesn’t have a relationship with their other parent, or if you think someone else would be more suitable to look after your child, it’s important to put this down in writing – either in a will or other document. The person you suggest as guardian won’t be appointed because your child’s other parent has parental responsibility. But your wishes would be taken into consideration if a court is involved.
If you share parental responsibility and have a child arrangements order
If you have a child arrangements order naming you as the person your child lives with, you can appoint a guardian to look after your child after you die.
In this instance, your child would live with their guardian rather than their other parent, but they’d share parental responsibility. If your child’s other parent wanted their child to live with them, they could apply to the court for an order. The court would decide based on what’s best for your child.