Family Law How to Guides...

Parental Responsibility: What Is It?

Reading time: 3 mins

Carrie Tennick, June 11, 2021

As a parent, you have certain duties and responsibilities when it comes to your child. You need to make sure they are looked after by providing a home for them and protecting them.

The legal rights and responsibilities you have towards your child are known as parental responsibility. It means that you are responsible for:

  • Agreeing to your child’s medical treatment
  • Choosing your child’s school
  • Disciplining your child
  • Looking after your child’s property
  • Naming your child and agreeing to any change of name
  • Providing for them and their education

Who has parental responsibility?

Not all parents have parental responsibility. Legally, all mothers and many fathers will have parental responsibility. But there are certain technicalities around this.

Fathers who are married to or in a civil partnership with the mother will automatically have parental responsibility. They won’t lose this if they then separate or divorce. Fathers who were not married to or in a civil partnership with the mother will have parental responsibility if they jointly register the child’s birth, get an agreement from the mother or an order from the court.

There are different rules in Scotland, where a father will have parental responsibility if he is married to the child’s mother at conception or any point after that or if he’s named on the birth certificate.

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, a father will have parental responsibility if he is married to the mother at the child’s birth or at any point following that if he lives in Northern Ireland. He will also have responsibility if he is named on the birth certificate at any point.

Same-sex partners will also automatically have parental responsibility if they were married or in a civil partnership when the child was born or during fertility treatment.

Surrogate mothers will have parental responsibility, even if they aren’t genetically related. And if they are married or in a civil partnership, their spouse or partner will also have parental responsibility.

Can I get parental responsibility?

If you don’t have automatic parental responsibility for your child, you can apply for it.

This is true for same-sex parents who are not married or in a civil partnership. The second parent will be able to apply for responsibility if there is a parental agreement or by marrying or entering into a civil partnership and getting an agreement or jointly registering the child’s birth.

If you’ve had a child through a surrogate mother, who has parental responsibility automatically, you can get a parental order. This transfers legal responsibility for the child from the surrogate to you.

You can apply as a step-parent to a child. It’s important to remember that more than two people can have parental responsibility for one child.

What are the rules for separated parents?

Even if you have parental responsibility for your child, if you don’t live with them, you are not automatically entitled to spend time with them. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have rights.

You have to be included in important decisions about your child’s life – like schooling or medical treatment. You will also have to both agree in writing if the decision is a major one – like taking your child to live abroad. But your child’s other parent doesn’t need your consent for routine decisions.

If you and the other parent can’t come to an agreement on important decisions, the court will have to decide for you.

Family law matters can be complicated. This is why it’s vital to have the right legal team behind you. If you need a family law solicitor for an issue around your children, just get in touch to find out how First4Lawyers can help you. Give us a free call or make an enquiry online.

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