The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of parental responsibility and defines it 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 guidance to the 1989 Act states that parental responsibility is concerned with 'bringing the child up, caring for him and making decisions about him, but does not affect the relationship of parent and child for other purposes. Thus, whether or not a parent has parental responsibility for a child does not affect any obligations towards the child, such as a statutory duty to maintain him, […] nor does it affect succession rights'.
What is parental responsibility?
In legal terms this is "all the rights, duties and powers which a parent has in relation to a child and their property". In other words, the responsibility to make decisions on behalf of your child, for example which school they attend, giving consent for operations and medication, the issue of passports etc. In fact the decisions which parents make every day when bringing up a child. But not everyone has the legal right to make the decisions.
Who has parental responsibility?
A mother always has parental responsibility (unless she has subsequently lost it through adoption or through a parental order under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA) 1990).
The child’s father has parental responsibility for a child if he was married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth. Similarly, the mother’s civil partner will (subject to the conditions section 42 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA) 2008) have parental responsibility.
An unmarried father may take steps to acquire parental responsibility. He will have parental responsibility automatically if he registered the birth with the mother on or after 1 December 2003. Alternatively, he may acquire parental responsibility by: applying to the court for a parental responsibility order; making a parental responsibility agreement with the child’s mother; or being appointed guardian (see below). Similar provisions apply to second female parents (who meet the conditions in section 43 of the HFEA 2008).
A step-parent may acquire parental responsibility for a child if he or she is married to, or the civil partner of, a person with parental responsibility for the child, either by agreement with the parent (and with any other person with parental responsibility), by court order, or through adoption.
A special guardian has parental responsibility for the child. Subject to any other orders, a special guardianship order allows the special guardian to exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of others with parental responsibility (except another special guardian).
A person named in a child arrangements order as a person with whom a child lives has parental responsibility.*
A guardian who is appointed for a child under section 5 of the Act has parental responsibility on the death of the child’s parent(s) or the person named in a child arrangements order as the person with whom a child is to live.
A local authority acquires parental responsibility for a child if a care order is in place.
* Courts also have the power to award parental responsibility to a person named in a child arrangements order as a person with whom a child spends time or otherwise has contact.
[SOURCE: Statutory guidance on court orders and pre-proceedings for local authorities, Department for Education. April 2014]
Parents who wish to make a Parental Responsibility Agreement can download a Parental Responsibility Agreement Form from HM Courts Service.
An application for a parental responsibility order may be made to the family proceedings court, the county court or the high court. The application should be made on a C1 Form (if there have not already been legal proceedings about the child) or a C2 Form (if there have already been legal proceedings). Find more information and download the forms from The Children's Legal Centre
Her Majesty's Courts Service
HM Court Service can provide information and guidance. Your local County Court or Magistrates Court will also be able to assist - details can also be found on this website.
This note provides information on acquiring parental responsibility, including for unmarried fathers, civil partners and step-parents. It applies to England and Wales and is provided by the House of Commons Library Socila Policy Section.