Parental Responsibility – what is it?

As the word suggests this is a responsibility – not a badge or award! In respect of parental responsibility I would suggest that this is about duty and trust. A duty for a parent to take responsibility for their parenting and instil trust in how that is done in a consistent and balanced manner.

How does the law look at it?

According to Section 3 (1) of the Children Act 1989, ‘parental responsibility’ means 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.
In practical terms, parental responsibility means the power to make important decisions in relation to a child, which can include:
a. determining the child’s education and where the child goes to school;
b. choosing, registering or changing the child’s name;
c. consenting to a child’s operation or certain medical treatment;
d. accessing a child’s medical records;
e. consenting to taking the child abroad for holidays or extended stays;
f. appointing a child’s guardian in the event of the death of a parent;
g. representing the child in legal proceedings;
h. determining the religion the child should be brought up with.

“Whether or not a parent has parental responsibility is not simply a matter that achieves the ticking of a box on a form. It is a significant matter of status as between parent and child and, just as important, as between each of the parents” (Re W (Direct Contact) [2013] 1 FLR 494, CA).

Parental responsibility does not entitle the interference with the day-to-day decision-making of the “resident” parent.

Who has Parental Responsibility ?

More than one person may have parental responsibility for the same child at the same time.

A mother will automatically have parental responsibility.

A father who was married to, or in a civil partnership with the mother automatically has parental responsibility, which will not be lost after divorce or dissolution of the civil partnership.

The following people do not automatically have parental responsibility:

a. A father who was not married or in a civil partnership with the mother,
b. Same-sex partners who were not married or in a civil partnership with the biological mother at the time of conception,
c. Stepparents,
d. Grandparents.

A father who was not married or in a civil partnership with the mother does not automatically have parental responsibility, but can acquire it by:

a. being added onto the birth certificate,
b. entering into a parental responsibility agreement,
c. by order of the court.

Similarly, for unmarried same-sex couples, the mother who carries the child will automatically gain parental responsibility and the second parent can acquire parental responsibility the same way as above.

Stepparents may acquire parental responsibility through agreement of all of those who already hold parental responsibility, or by order of the court.

Before the court grants a parental responsibility order, they will consider the relevant factors, including those from the case of Re H (minors) (Local Authority: Parental Rights) (No 3) [1991] (the ‘Re H factors’):

a. degree of commitment to the child;
b. state of the current relationship with the child;
c. reason for making the application.

Women’s McKenzie Friend provides support and assistance for women going through the family court in respect of child arrangements. Parents have responsibility for their children and a requirement to put the needs and welfare of their children first.

Mary Cosker: Women’s McKenzie Friend.