What is Parental Responsibility?
Sam Derry (Student)
Parental Responsibility defines the responsibilities, duties, rights, and powers a parent has in relation to a child. This is found in section 3 of the Children Act 1989. In practice, having parental responsibility allows a parent (or anyone else with parental responsibility) to make decisions for the child such as what school they will go to, what medical treatment the child will have, and how the child will be disciplined. Parental responsibility also comes with the obligations of meeting the child’s needs, including providing food, a home, clothing, etc.
The Children Act 1989 also sets out who has parental responsibility for a child. The mother of the child will automatically have parental responsibility. A father will have parental responsibility if they were married or in a civil partnership at the time the child was born or marries (or enters into a civil partnership with) the mother afterwards. In addition, a father will have parental responsibility if they are entered on the child’s birth certificate.
In order to gain parental responsibility as a father who is neither married to the mother, nor on the birth certificate, you can complete a parental responsibility agreement (C(PRA1) form) with the mother. However, this will require the mother’s signature (and therefore agreement). Alternatively, if the mother of the child is not cooperating, then you can apply for a parental responsibility order (C1 form).
When attempting to gain parental responsibility through a court order, the courts will consider the child’s needs. Unless the order would be contrary to the child’s welfare – such as if the order’s purpose was to disrupt the child, or if the father is a risk to the child’s wellbeing – then the court order will likely be granted. Having parental responsibility does not automatically mean you are allowed contact with the child- a child arrangements court order may say something different.
Where there are two female partners, the parent who carried the child is treated as the mother and so automatically gains parental responsibility. The other female parent can obtain parental responsibility in the same way a father would – either through marriage/civil partnership at the time of or after the child is born, by being on the birth certificate, or through a parental responsibility agreement or order. As a parent it is important to have parental responsibility so that you have the legal power to make decisions for your child, but also to potentially contest certain decisions being made for the child such as name changes or the child being taken abroad for a month or more.
Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) offers free legal advice on family law issues, such as obtaining parental responsibility. You can either email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk or call 01782 294800 to book an appointment.