What Is Parental Responsibility?
The role of a parent is defined in law as parental responsibility and this in turn is defined under the Children Act 1989 as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his or her property”.
It means you have the right in law to have a say in the important decisions that affects a child’s life – about their care, upbringing and ultimately, their happiness.
If you have parental responsibility, your most important roles are to:
- Provide a safe home for the child
- Protect and maintain the child
You are also responsible for:
- Disciplining the child
- Choosing and providing for the child’s education
- Agreeing to the child’s medical treatment
- Naming the child and agreeing to any change of name
- Looking after the child’s property
- Deciding which, if any, religion they follow
- Deciding where the child lives
Parents have to ensure that their child is supported financially, whether they have parental responsibility or not.
Do I have parental responsibility?
You will automatically have parental responsibility if you fall under one of these categories:
- You are the birth mother
- You are the father and were married to the mother at the time the child was born
- You are the father but were not married to the mother, however you are registered on the child’s birth certificate. The registration or re-registration must have taken place on or after 1 December 2003
- You are a civil partner or partners of mothers registered as the child’s legal parent on the birth certificate.
If you don’t fall under one of these categories, you can obtain parental responsibility.
How do I get parental responsibility?
- You can re-register the birth of the child.
This can only be done if the father was not originally named on the birth certificate. The mother must agree to this and go with the father to re-register the birth or sign a statutory declaration.
See the form here for more information on how to do this.
- You can make a parental responsibility agreement with the mother.
You both need to agree to this and the form is then witnessed by the court.
- You can submit a form C1 to the court asking them to give you parental responsibility.
The court will usually grant parent responsibility to a parent if they apply for it, unless there is very good reason on why they should not be given responsibility.
In order to submit a C1 form to court you need to show you have considered mediation by way of a MIAM. If you do not want to mediate with mother about this issue, then you can do a direct to court MIAM, which is usually the quickest way of achieving this step. You will need to confirm to the mediator that you need a Form FM1 signed for this C1 and not a C100 form.
What will the court consider when I make a parental responsibility application?
The court will always look at what is in the best interests of the child. The more people who love and care for the child the better. In considering whether to grant parental responsibility the court will take into account:
When making a decision the court will consider:
- Whether the parent, by their actions during and since the application, has shown sufficient commitment to a child to justify giving them parental responsibility
- The level of attachment between the parent and child
- The reasons for applying for parental responsibility
Do I get parental responsibility if I marry the birth mother?
Yes – but only if you are the birth father. You will need to re-register the birth using this form.
Parental responsibility for separated parents
If you have parental responsibility for a child but you don’t live with them, it doesn’t mean you have a right to spend time with your children. However, the other parent must include you when making important decisions about their lives.
You don’t always need to get the consent of the other parent for routine decisions, such as giving them medicine, even if they also have parental responsibility.
If it’s a major decision (for example, one of you wants to move abroad with your children or a serious health matter) both parents with responsibility must agree in writing.
You can apply for a Specific Issue Order or Prohibited Steps Order if you can’t agree. A judge will then make a decision which they believe will be in your child’s best interests. This will be binding on you both.
I have parental responsibility. What are my rights to see my child?
Parental responsibility does not give an automatic right to see your child. If you cannot agree on child arrangements then you can try family mediation or apply to court for a Child Arrangements Order. You will usually need to have considered mediation first unless one of these 15 exemptions apply.
So neither the mother or father has an automatic right in law to spend time with their children – the rights instead belong to the child. It is a child’s right to have a good, close and loving relationship with both of their parents and this right is enshrined in law.
A court will always respect that it is in a child’s best interest to maintain this relationship and a court will make an order to ensure that happens – unless of course there are serious concerns regarding the safety of the child.
Can parental responsibility be removed?
Yes – but only in extreme circumstances. We would recommend seeking independent legal advice if you are going to ask a court to make such an order.
Family law is all about the wellbeing and safety of the child and less about the rights of the individual parent. Instead the parents have certain responsibilities to make decisions and promote the wellbeing of the child.
There is no set parenting routine that is best for a child – every family is different and has different circumstances. Instead you should ideally work together as parents in the best interests of the child. If you struggle to do this, then try family mediation to help you agree a parenting plan and if all else fails, you can ask the court to make an order on behalf of your child.
Take a look at our infographic below which explains this:
This guide to Parental Responsibility has been produced by Ali Carter Dip M.(B.inst) F.inst.Pa.
Ali is the Managing Director of Divorce Ltd, a Mediator, Divorce Negotiator and has been previously through a divorce himself. He has helped clients in over 2000 divorce or separations since 2010.
Call 0330 999 0959 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help with resolving a parental dispute or wish to apply to court for parental responsibility but need a Form FM1 signed.