Everyone who has a child will at some point have heard the phrase parental responsibility, but what does it actually mean? Who has is? How can I obtain it if I don’t have it?

To start at the beginning. Parental Responsibility or PR is defined as being all the rights, duties and responsibilities, that a person has in relation to a child and their property. In short it is the ability to make decisions for and about a child in respect of almost all aspects of their life. This includes such things as education, medical treatment, the name that the child is know by and so on.

The following people automatically have PR for a child:
• The child’s mother
• The child’s father if he is registered on the birth certificate
• A person who is married to or in a civil partnership with the child’s mother at the time that the child is born.

If a person does not have PR for the child, it is possible for it to be acquired. This may be achieved in several ways, including:
• Marrying or entering a civil partnership with the child’s mother
• Being registered on the child’s birth certificate following re-registration (often where there was an error at first registration)
• Entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the child’s mother. Such an agreement must comply with very strict rules and can include stepparent agreements if the mother and stepparent are married.
• Obtaining a court order such as a parental responsibility order or special guardianship order.

It is also important to think about what parental responsibility does not do. PR does not decide with whom a child should live or who a child such see or spend time with. Such matters are (if they cannot be agreed) dealt with by a child arrangements order.

It will be seen that it is possible and indeed normal for there to be more than one person with PR at a time. Often this is just the two parents, however, is possible in some circumstances for there to more than two people at a time to share PR.

In circumstances where there is more than one holder of PR, all people with PR must be consulted and agree to major decisions which effect the child. This excludes the minor day to day decisions but most definitely covers issues such as changing a child name, changing school giving consent to non-emergency medical treatment.

If there is a disagreement between the holders of PR as to what, if any steps are be taken, regarding the welfare of the child then any one with PR may make an application to court for an order to answer the question. Such an order is known as a specific issue order.

Sometimes it happens that one person with PR is acting or threating to use their PR in a way that the other holders of PR do not feel is in the best interests of the child. In these circumstances an application to the court can be made for a prohibited steps order. This is an order preventing an aspect of PR from being exercised such as changing a child’s school.

PR can be a very complex and muti layered issue and decisions made for a child can have a profound effect on their life. It is important therefore that when such situations arise timely expert advise from a specialist in the field is obtained. Here at Alfred Newton, we have a team of lawyers with decades of experience in all areas of child law. There’s not much we haven’t seen. We will always work with to you in a sensitive empathic way to deliver the best possible outcome.

Robert West

Robert is an experienced Solicitor with over 20 years experience in the law.

Robert West