Parental responsibility

If you don't have parental responsibility for your child, decisions about your child's upbringing can be made without your knowledge or approval. Find out here whether you have parental responsibility and if not, how you can get it.
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The mother?

Yes, automatically.

The father?

England and Wales

Yes, also automatically if the mother and father are married at the date of the birth.

Scotland

Yes, also automatically if the mother and father are married at the date of conception or if the mother and father married after the date of conception.

And otherwise?

England and Wales

The father can get parental responsibility if he marries the mother after the birth or he is registered as the father on the birth certificate (after 2003).

A second female parent in a civil partnership or marriage with the mother at the time of the birth will also have parental responsibility.

Scotland

The father can get parental responsibility if he jointly registered the child’s birth with the birth mother (after the 4th of May 2006).

A second female partner will also have parental responsibility provided they are in a civil partnership or marriage with the woman at the time they have: (i) the egg donation, (ii) the embryo transfer, or (iii) the donor insemination treatment which produces the child.

England, Wales and Scotland

Parental responsibility can be agreed (for say an unmarried father, the unmarried same-sex partner or a step parent in addition to the natural parents) and then confirmed in a correctly completed parental responsibility agreement, or can be ordered by court. Use Rocket Lawyer to create your Parental responsibility agreement.

More than one person (or organisation such as the local authority) can have parental responsibility and if you have parental responsibility you don't stop until the child reaches 18 or is adopted (at which point the adoptive parents have the parental responsibility).

Lastly, if both parents have died, the guardian of the child will have parental responsibility.

In England and Wales the Children Act 1989 parental responsibility sets out parental responsibility. It states that 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… It also includes the rights, powers and duties which a guardian… would have had in relation to the child and his property."

In Scotland the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 sets out parental responsibility. It states that parental responsibility means that “a parent has in relation to his child the responsibility:

  1. to safeguard and promote the child’s health, development and welfare;

  2. to provide, in a manner appropriate to the stage of development of the child—

    1. direction;

    2. guidance,

to the child;

  1. if the child is not living with the parent, to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the child on a regular basis; and

  2. to act as the child’s legal representative,

but only in so far as compliance with this section is practicable and in the interests of the child.”

Each party with parental responsibility can make decisions on their own (except in some situations such as leaving the country permanently or adoption in which case both would need to agree) but the other party/parent can challenge any decision and have the matter decided by court if necessary.

Of course, many parents don't live together and some don't even have contact with their children but agree that the children live with one or the other. Plus, as children get older the level of responsibility inevitably decreases. Parents will usually have a greater role to play than non-parents but an unmarried father who does not have parental responsibility still has the legal obligation to pay for the child. Remember, it is the child who is the important person here and the legislation is to protect him or her not the mother and/or father.

You simply agree with the mother to create a Parental responsibility agreement. If it is not agreed you would need to seek legal advice and apply for a court order giving you parental responsibility. Ask a lawyer for help with this or any other issue arising out of this Quick Guide.

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