Parental Responsibility

Is defined by the Children Act 1989 s.3(1) 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”. Courts regard Parental Responsibility as being a responsible parent to a child, rather than a means of having power to control the care of that child on a day to day basis. In reality, it often becomes important if medical consent is needed and the main carer is not available, e.g. when the child is visiting with the other parent.

You have automatic parental responsibility if you are the mother. The biological father of the child would have parental responsibility if he:-

  1. was married to the mother at the time the child was born or
  2. was named on the birth certificate if the birth was registered after 1st December 2003, or
  3. has entered into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother.

A father who was not married to the child's mother when the child was born will therefore not automatically have parental responsibility for that child. He can acquire it by:

  • agreement with the child's mother or by applying to the court.
  • marrying the child's mother after the birth.

Anyone who secures a Child Arrangements Order (Contact Order or Residence Order) <LINK> for a child will automatically be given Parental Responsibility as part of that process. An example of this might be when the grandparents of a child want to care full-time for him/her because his/her own parents are not able to.

Step-parents can enter into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with those who have responsibility already or can apply to the Court. It is possible to obtain a Child Arrangements Order (Residence Order) where a step-parent has had significant caring responsibilities for a child, as long as the Court feels this is in the best interests of the child and is a necessary step.

If you wish to work out Parental Responsibility by agreement rather than going to Court, this can be done in family mediation.

It is important to note that obtaining parental responsibility will not necessarily change the day-to-day care for the child especially if it interferes with the care already being provided. For example, a father could not change the child’s school without the agreement of the mother. If they disagree about this, the father would need to apply to the Court for a Specific Issues Order. In this situation, mediation would be a good alternative to Court, being quicker and cheaper and hopefully fostering more parental co-operation and less conflict.

National Family Mediation (NFM) is a network of professional family mediation providers based in England and Wales that work with families affected by relational breakdown. All providers aim to help clients achieve an outcome that works best for them and their family

If you would like to get more information about mediation and/or make an appointment you can contact NFM direct on 0300 4000 636 or you can contact a NFM family mediation provider in your area,

All services also take referrals from Solicitors, the court or other helping / support agencies.

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