Parental Responsibility

What is parental responsibility?

While the law does not define in detail what parental responsibility is, the following list sets out the key roles:

* providing a home for the child
* having contact with and living with the child
* protecting and maintaining the child
* disciplining the child
* choosing and providing for the child’s education
* determining the religion of the child
* agreeing to the child’s medical treatment
* naming the child and agreeing to any change of the child’s name
* accompanying the child outside the UK and agreeing to the child’s emigration, should the issue arise
* being responsible for the child’s property
* appointing a guardian for the child, if necessary
* allowing confidential information about the child to be disclosed

Who has parental responsibility?

In England and Wales, if the parents of a child are married to each other at the time of the birth, or if they have jointly adopted a child, then they both have parental responsibility. Parents do not lose parental responsibility if they divorce, and this applies to both the resident and the non-resident parent.

This is not automatically the case for unmarried parents. According to current law, a mother always has parental responsibility for her child. A father, however, has this responsibility only if he is married to the mother when the child is born or has acquired legal responsibility for his child through one of these three routes:

* (from 1 December 2003) by jointly registering the birth of the child with the mother
* by a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
* by a parental responsibility order, made by a court

Living with the mother, even for a long time, does not give a father parental responsibility and if the parents are not married, parental responsibility does not always pass to the natural father if the mother dies.

All parents (including adoptive parents) have a legal duty to financially support their child, whether they have parental responsibility or not.

Applying to the courts for parental responsibility

A father can apply to the court to gain parental responsibility. In considering an application from a father, the court will take the following into account:

* the degree of commitment shown by the father to his child
* the degree of attachment between father and child
* the father’s reasons for applying for the order

The court will then decide to accept or reject the application based on what it believes is in the child’s best interest.