Parental Responsibility


Parental responsibility is the name for the bundle of rights and obligations many people assume one has just by virtue of being a parent – namely the right to make decisions about a child’s upbringing.

The Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility 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”.

A person who has parental responsibility is entitled to a say in all important matters affecting the child’s upbringing. Examples of issues where a person with parental responsibility is entitled to be involved in decision-making include:

  • whether the child should undergo medical treatment;
  • where and how the child is educated;
  • what the child should be named and whether there should be any change to that;
  • how the child’s property should be dealt with;
  • when and how the child should be represented in legal proceedings;
  • the child’s religious upbringing, and
  • whether the child should travel abroad, either for a holiday or to live.

Parental responsibility is an abstract concept, so is separate from decisions about where a child lives (residence) and whom he or she sees (contact).

Although having parental responsibility gives a parent certain rights, there is an obligation to exercise those rights for the benefit of the child. Where there is dispute as to how parental responsibility should be exercised, the court will look at what outcome best meets the child’s needs, not which parental rights should be prioritised.

Mothers automatically have parental responsibility from the moment of the child’s birth. A father will automatically have parental responsibility if he was married to the mother either at the time of the child’s birth or subsequently. A father who is not married to the mother will only have parental responsibility automatically if the child was born after December 2003 and he is named on the birth certificate.

In all other circumstances, a father will not automatically have parental responsibility and must obtain it by agreement with the child’s mother, or by court order.

In some families, people other than the child’s parents will have parental responsibility – stepparents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, for example.

How can we help?

  • Help identify who currently has parental responsibility in relation to a child;
  • Assist with steps for a parent or other adult who does not currently have parental responsibility to acquire it;
  • Represent parents (and, in suitable cases, children) in contested proceedings about the acquisition, limitation or termination of parental responsibility.

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