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What is parental responsibility and do I have it…?

When you have parental responsibility, it means that you have certain legal rights and responsibilities in relation to your child. Not all parents automatically have parental responsibility, but there are various ways to get it.

What is parental responsibility?

The law defines parental responsibility 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 property.’

The wording of this definition is very technical and it does not shed much light on what parental responsibility really means. In practical terms, it means that all those with parental responsibility have a right to say how the child should be raised.

This does not relate to the day-to-day issues of the child’s upbringing, such as what cartoons they watch on TV. These kinds of decisions can be left to the resident parent. Rather, it relates to more significant decisions such as –

• Whether your child’s surname can be changed
• Whether your child can go abroad
• Where your child should go to school
• What religion your child should be brought up with
• What kind of medical treatment your child should have

When such decisions arise, everyone with parental responsibility must agree on the issue or give their consent. For example, if a father wants to take his child abroad on a two-week holiday, the mother must provide her consent. Just because you have parental responsibility does not mean that you have the right to contact with your child, or the right to know where he/she lives. These issues are easily confused, but they are two separate points.

Who has parental responsibility?

You will automatically have parental responsibility if –

• You are the child’s mother
• You are the child’s father and you were married to the mother at the time of the birth
• You are the child’s father and you jointly registered the birth after 1 December 2003 (in other words, you were listed on the birth certificate)

If none of these apply, you will not have parental responsibility for your child, grandchild or step-child.

Can I get parental responsibility?

However, you can apply for parental responsibility. If you live in England or Wales there are three options open to you, and the best route will depend on you and your individual circumstances.
The first option is to re-register the birth. This is only possible if you are the father of the child and the mother agrees to it. Once you have re-registered, both your names will appear on the birth certificate and you will both have parental responsibility.

The second option is to sign a parental responsibility agreement. This is suitable if you are connected to the child in some way (for example, as their father, step-parent or second same-sex parent) and the mother agrees. In such cases, you simply need to fill in a parental responsibility agreement form and take it to the local county court to be signed and witnessed. You then need to send two copies of the form off to the Principal Registry of the Family Division.

If the mother does not agree, the third and final option is to apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order. The court will then decide whether or not to grant parental responsibility, although mediation should be attempted first.

Need to speak to Solicitor?

If you would like to know more about parental responsibility, including what authority it gives you and how you can get it please do not hesitate to contact us. For an informal chat or to book a consultation, call us on 0333 4564 444, or for international calls, dial +44 1992 505 406.

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