Parental responsibility is clearly defined under the Children Act 1989 and it is described as being the duties, powers, responsibilities, rights and authority that through the law a parent of a child has in relation to the child. The term aims to place an emphasis on the duties of the parent towards their child and the rights that they have.
Throughout a child’s life, certain decisions will have to be made and those who hold esponsibility over the child will be able to make these decisions. Routine decisions should always be made by the resident parent or the individual with whom the child lives. The term will relate to the power to make specific decisions about the child including;
- Religion – Where the child is brought up within a mixed cultural background, the religion of the child should be the same as the individual with responsibility until the child is of an age when they can reach their own decisions
- Education – Where the child will be schooled and how they will be educated
- Registration – The name of the child or any changes to their name
- Guardians – Those with responsibility can determine who the guardian will be in the event of either parents death
- Medical Care – Providing consent to an operation, the receipt of specific medical treatment, or requesting access to view medical records
- Holidays – Providing consent to take the child overseas for a holiday or longer period of time
- Legal – Providing representation for the child in legal proceedings
Nevertheless, this does not always mean that they have automatic rights. Situations will include;
- Contact – It is up to the child who they see, not the individual who has responsibility
- Location – If a child lives with one parent, the other parent does not automatically have the right to know whether they are living. If they wish to know, the parent may have to apply to the court for this information to be disclosed
Who has Responsibility?
The mother of the child will always have automatic responsibility. Even in the event of a divorce, they will not lose this right. A married father will also have automatic parental responsibility and they will not lose this even in the event of a divorce. However, where the father is not married, the situation is different, with no automatic right to parental responsibility. A step father or step mother do not have automatic parental responsibility, neither do grandparents.
There are a number of ways in which parental responsibility can be obtained by an unmarried father including;
- Marrying the mother
- Applying to have his name placed on the birth certificate of the child if his name is not already listed
- Signing to a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother
- Applying to and obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order through the court
- Asking to be named as a resident parent in line with a Child Arrangements Order
- Responsibilities for the child when the parent does not have parental responsibility
Parental responsibility and child maintenance are treated individually. Although an unmarried father may not have responsibility for the child, he may still have a duty to provide maintenance and ongoing support. However, unmarried fathers do have other rights such as;
- Being able to apply through the court to obtain court orders in relation to the child
- If the child is currently in care, they have the right to reasonable contact
Anyone with responsibility is not able to transfer this right to another. Although it can be shared it cannot be transferred completely. It can be possible to delegate parental responsibility to an unmarried or married partner, teacher, friend, relative or childminder, but the individual with responsibility is still accountable for the child.
Parental Responsibility Agreements
These are agreements which are made between an unmarried father and a mother to grant the father parental responsibility. However, both parents must be in agreement for this to happen. A parental responsibility agreement can be made when both parents agree that the unmarried father has parental responsibility and the father is already listed on the birth certificate. A parental responsibility agreement must be signed and witnessed by a justice clerk or court officer and must be submitted to the Principal Registry of the Family Division. If the agreement has not been filed correctly it cannot be legally binding.
Parental Responsibility Order
This is an agreement which can be entered into by a step parent who is married to the parent with full parental responsibility or a second female partner.
Under the Children Act 1989, a Parental Responsibility Order can be obtained by unmarried fathers when the mother will not allow the father to be re-registered or registered on the child’s birth certificate, or when they refuse to sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement.
The father will have to make an application to the court for them to reach a decision as to whether the father should be assigned parental responsibility. If the mother does oppose a Parental Responsibility order, they must be allowed the opportunity to say why this is the case and why she believes that the court should not grant the order.
There are numerous reasons why the court may not grant an order and the reasons are usually one of the following;
- The court believes that if they grant the order, the father could potentially misuse his parental responsibility or by undermining the mothers ability to provide adequate care for the child
- If the father has caused injury to his or another child or committed any acts of child cruelty
- The father has served a lengthy custodial sentence for robbery
Parental responsibility no longer exists when;
- A young person reaches the age of 18 years
- The death of an individual who holds parental responsibility
- If a child or young person is adopted
Changing the Child’s Surname
For the name of a child to be changed, all parties who hold responsibility over the child must agree. If an agreement cannot be reached, the parent wishing to change the child’s name can make an application to the court to obtain consent. The court will then base their decision based on the best interests of the child.
Making a Passport Application
If a parent wishes to apply for a passport, it must be signed by the parent who holds parental responsibility. When it concerns an unmarried father who has already obtained a court order or they have signed a Parental Responsibility Agreement, the original order or agreement must be sent to the court along with the application to prove parental responsibility.
Parental responsibility is a complex area of law and if you are in any doubt about who is entitled to legally obtain responsibility, it is always recommended to seek advice from a qualified solicitor.
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This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.