If you have parental responsibility, it means you have the authority and responsibilities concerning a child’s life. This article will explore the concept of parental responsibility, including who holds this responsibility, how it is obtained, and the rights and obligations that come with it. Understanding parental responsibility is crucial for ensuring the well-being and care of a child. Seeking guidance from a family law solicitor can provide valuable insights into navigating the complexities of parental responsibility.
What is parental responsibility?
In simple terms, parental responsibility refers to legal rights, powers, duties, responsibilities as well as authority an individual has over a child. Any individual who has parental responsibility over a child has the right to make critical decisions regarding their care and upbringing. But if there is another individual with parental responsibility on the same child, it is required that both of them are in agreement first before making crucial decisions regarding the child. In practical terms, parental responsibility means making important decisions such as:
- Determining matters regarding the child’s education and as well as the school he or she attends
- Choosing, registering, or changing the name of the child
- Accessing the child’s medical reports
- Choosing the child guardian in case the parent dies
- Consenting to the child’s medical treatment or surgery
- Consenting to travel with the child out of the country, either for holidays or extended stays
- Representing the child in legal proceedings
- Determining what religion the child should be brought up with is also one of the key decisions that an individual with parental responsibility will have to make. And where there is a mixed cultural background, the child should be exposed to all the religions involved, until he or she is old enough to make a decision on which religion to follow.
Who has parental responsibility?
There are those who gain parental responsibility automatically and there are those who can only get through a court order.
Those who automatically acquire parental responsibility
If the parents of a child were married at the time of his or her birth, or they jointly adopted a child, then they get parental responsibility automatically, which they retain even after the divorce. But if the parents are not married, then it is the mother who automatically obtains parental responsibility, which she obtains from the child’s birth. The unmarried father will only be able to obtain parental responsibility by:
- Coming to an agreement with the mother to share parental responsibility
- Jointly registering the child’s birth
- Applying to a family court for parental responsibility order
- Marrying or entering into a civil partnership with the mother
- Obtaining a Residence Order
- Being named as the resident parent in the Child Arrangement Order
Remember, if the matter ends up in court, what the judge will consider mainly is the child’s welfare. The judge will also consider the following:
- The attachment the father has with the child
- The commitment the father has towards the child’s welfare
- What the father’s intention was for applying for the order.
In the case of same-sex couples, they will also gain parental responsibility automatically if they were civil partners at the time the child was coming into their life, or at the time of the treatment, which involves donor insemination or fertility treatment. If they are not in a civil partnership, then they will only be able to gain responsibility through:
- Application for a parental responsibility agreement
- Jointly registering the birth
- Becoming civil partners with the other parent and then drafting a parental responsibility agreement.
Those who gain parental responsibility through the application
Parental responsibility isn’t obtained by the child’s parents alone, as anyone with the child’s interest at heart can make an application to a court for the same. For instance, an individual with a residence order (an order that directs where and with whom the child is to live) from a family court acquires parental responsibility immediately after the order is issued. This could be the child’s grandparents, relative, or guardian.
When the child is taken into the care of local authorities, either through emergency protection care (an order given to get the child out of a situation where there is reason to believe that he or she may be suffering, or will suffer if not removed) or through a care order (where the court places the child under the care of local authorities) then the local authority automatically assume parental responsibility during the time these orders remain effective.
What is a parental responsibility order?
In simple terms, a Parental Responsibility Order is an order made guided by the Children Act 1989, which is applied for by individuals who are seeking parental responsibility for a child. In the case of parents, maybe the mother is refusing to share or denying the child’s father parental responsibility, the father can apply to a family court to have the mother compelled to include the father in the child’s life.
Can parental responsibility be transferred?
No, it can’t. A person with parental responsibility can share it with another party, but cannot transfer the responsibility completely to another person. He/she can delegate the responsibility of looking after the child to a partner, teacher, friend, childminder, or a relative, but will still be liable and responsible for ensuring that proper arrangements are put in place for the child. However, the individual to whom parental responsibility is delegated is expected to do everything possible with the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare, despite not having parental responsibility in actuality.
Do persons with parental responsibility have to agree before making a decision?
In most cases, decisions can be made by just one parental responsibility holder, meaning that one doesn’t have to consult the other party when making every decision. For instance, let’s say there is a school trip in which the child wants to go, but needs consent from his or her parents, guardians, or whoever has parental responsibility over them, only one of the parental responsibility holders is required to give consent. But if the other party or parent strongly objects to such a decision, he or she can obtain a Prohibited Steps Order from the court to prevent it from happening. Note that the court will make a determination which it believes will be in the best interest of the child.
If the decision to be made is a major one, one that might change the child’s life, all Parental Responsibility holders need to agree first. Such decisions include something like changing the child’s name, putting the child up for adoption, or having to take the child abroad. These aren’t decisions you can make by yourself without involving the other party.
What happens if we can’t agree on a major decision?
Of course, there are instances where Parental responsibility holders won’t agree, especially when making a major decision. When this happens, the best decision would be to seek family mediation. The mediation will be aimed at lessening the conflict between the parties and trying to resolve the disputes amicably. The mediation process varies throughout the country, where in some processes, the parents see the mediator separately and then brought together later to see if they can reach a compromise. In this case, the mediator tries to understand each side and then suggests possible solutions. In other mediation processes, the responsibility holders are attended to together with their family solicitors or representatives where they try to work out a solution.
But if no agreement is reached, then an application should be made to the court for a Specific Issue Order or a Prohibited Steps Order. Basically, the court will be able to decide on behalf of the parents, and the decision will be based on what the court thinks is in the best interest of the child.
Can a father lose responsibility for his child?
Yes, a father can lose parental responsibility over his kid. Especially if the father is unmarried and has gained parental responsibility through a parental responsibility agreement or a court order. An application can be made to a family court to remove the parental responsibility. The court will terminate the responsibility if the grounds are exceptional and if the court is convinced that termination is in the best interest of the child.
Applying to remove parental responsibility from the father
Even though the applications of such cases are quite rare, due to the higher standards set by the court that has to be met for such an application to be considered, they can be considered if:
- The child in question doesn’t want contact with the father
- The father won’t see the child
- The father doesn’t support the child, financially, or;
- The father won’t play any part in the child’s life
Remember, the applicant has to justify the reasons why the father’s parental responsibility should be terminated. Also, note that being an absentee or inconsistent father doesn’t count as one of the reasons he should be stripped of the responsibilities.
As we mentioned, these kinds of applications are very rare, and when there is a dispute where the mother or guardian wants the father to be stripped of all his responsibilities, the parents are always encouraged to focus on resolving the day-to-day practicalities of parenting the children, together. What’s more, rather than stripping the father of all his responsibilities over the child, the court may decide to issue other orders that would protect the children, such as Prohibited Steps Order, Specific Issue Order, or Child Arrangement Orders. These orders don’t go to the extreme of removing the rights of the father, but they can limit the role of a father in a child’s life significantly, provided it is in the interests of the child for his involvement to be restricted.
When does parental responsibility end?
Parental responsibility over a child automatically comes to an end when he or she turns 18, or if he or she get married or gets into a registered partnership before then. Also, when a parental responsibility holder mistreats the child, the court may decide to take the responsibility away from you. What’s more, if the child is adopted, parental responsibility automatically comes to an end, and so is when the parental responsibility holder dies. Lastly, if the parental responsibility was granted through a parental responsibility order, and the order has expired, the responsibility will come to an end.
Can one be a parent to a child without Parental Responsibility?
Yes, you can! The fact that you don’t have parental responsibility doesn’t mean that you don’t have any rights or responsibility to your kid. You can contact them, and with time, build a close and healthy relationship that would make an impact in the kid’s life. What would be missing though is the ability to make crucial decisions over the child’s life, as that role is solely left to the person with parental responsibility over the child. This case mostly affects fathers, where you find most of them developing amazing relationships with their kids even without parental responsibility. This goes to show you that nothing should stop you from building a relationship with your child, or being present in his/her life. You can be a parent to that child and even provide for him or her financially as you are not restricted. Also, you can decide to apply for parental responsibility orders or agreements through courts or having an agreement with the parental responsibility holder. So, here are some key rights and duties you have over that child as a parent:
- A legal duty to support the child financially, even when you are not living together. This is provided for in the Child Support Act 1991 and the Child Support, Pensions, and Social Security Act 2000
- If the child is deceased a parent has the right to inherit that child’s estate
- You have the right to apply for section 8 orders, including:
- Residence order – an order that sets out the person with whom the child is to live.
- Contact order – an order setting out the extent to which the child is to stay in contact with the individual
- Prohibited steps order – this is an order that’s aimed at restricting certain actions relating to the child
- Specific issue order – this is an order that concerns certain aspects of the kid’s upbringing e.g. religious education or medical treatment.
- Even when the child is in the care of the local authority, you have the right to have reasonable contact with him or her.
- In case an application for an emergency protection order is made, you as a parent have the right to be informed, and you can also apply for it to be discharged.
Essentially, the rights of a parent without responsibilities relate more to ensuring the child’s general well-being rather than his or her upbringing – which is left to those with parental responsibility.
Your rights and responsibilities vary depending on whether you have parental responsibility or not. Without parental responsibility, you won’t be able to make crucial decisions relating to your child’s upbringing. So, seek legal advice on what you can do, as there is certainly something you can do about the situation.