Parental Responsibility and Its Meaning

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Parental Responsibility and Its Meaning

Parental responsibility is an incredibly important part of the law for any parent or carer of a child. But it can be complex and confusing. To help anyone who is having issues with this highly emotionally charged area of the law, we have written this article as a quick guide to clear up some of the confusion.

What is Parental Responsibility?

‘Parental responsibility means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibility and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.’[1]

This is the legal definition given to parental responsibility in the statute. Effectively, it means that those with parental responsibility over a child have the power and responsibility to make all decisions about the child’s life – spanning from consenting to medical treatment to receiving school reports.

If you have parental responsibility, it means that you often do not have to have consent from anyone else who has parental responsibility to make a decision. These are often day-to-day decisions such as arranging a haircut or extracurricular activities.

The courts have decided, however, that certain decisions are so important that all parties with parental responsibility must consent to the decision. Here, one person with parental responsibility would have the right to veto – decisions must be unanimous. Unless the decision is agreed upon one person will not be able to consent on their own. These decisions include:

  • Schooling,
  • Serious medical treatment,
  • Change of surname,
  • Removal from the country of residence

Who has Parental Responsibility?

These people will automatically have parental responsibility over a child when it is born, without having to take further steps:

  • The genetic mother who gave birth to the child,
  • A father who is married to the child’s mother.

Some other individuals will have to take further steps to acquire parental responsibility. These will include unwed fathers, stepfathers, stepmothers and other carers. These people can gain parental responsibility in one of several ways:

  • Unwed fathers can marry the child’s Mother (but only if the child was born after 31st Nov 2003),
  • Unwed fathers by being registered as the child’s Father,
  • Entering into a parental responsibility agreement,
  • Obtaining a parental responsibility Order,
  • Being granted a child arrangement order for residence

Parental Responsibility Agreements

If you and someone who has parental responsibility agree that it should be shared, a form can be signed by both parties and witnessed by an officer of the court to gain parental responsibility.

Parental Responsibility Orders

If no agreement can be made, an application can be made to the court for an Order. The court will decide based on what it believes are the child’s best interests. The welfare of the child will be the court’s utmost priority. Usually, an unmarried father will be granted parental responsibility unless there is a very strong reason not to.

Three factors should be taken into account by the court:

  • The child’s attachment to the applicant,
  • The commitment of the applicant to the child,
  • The reasons for applying for parental responsibility

Stella Maris Solicitors LLP are expert solicitors based in Swindon and can help you with any legal issues you may have concerning your children, partner or ex-partner. Telephone 01793 296118 or email Mail@stellamarissolicitorsllp.co.uk for more help and information.


[1] S3(1) Children Act 1989.

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