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 childs 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 childs upbringing. Examples of issues where a person with parental responsibility is entitled to be involved in decision-making include:
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 childs needs, not which parental rights should be prioritised.
Mothers automatically have parental responsibility from the moment of the childs birth. A father will automatically have parental responsibility if he was married to the mother either at the time of the childs 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 childs mother, or by court order.
In some families, people other than the childs parents will have parental responsibility – stepparents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, for example.
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