Parental Responsibility

What Is It?

Parental Responsibility is defined in Section 3(1) of the Children Act 1989 as all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a parent has in relation to their child and their property.  A person with parental responsibility is entitled to make decisions with reference to a child’s welfare and in particular, as to issues concerning their health, education and religious upbringing.

Who Has It?

A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child.  A father automatically has parental responsibility if he is married to the mother.

Unmarried fathers can acquire parental responsibility by subsequently marrying the child’s mother; by being registered as the father on the child’s birth certificate; by entering into a formal Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother or securing a Court Order which affords them parental responsibility.

Other individuals can also acquire parental responsibility by a variety of ways, but the exercise of their parental responsibility is more limited than those of the child’s parents.

Who Can Make Decisions?

A parent with parental responsibility can act independently of the other unless there is a statutory requirement to consult with each other, for example, neither parent may take the children out of the UK without the written consent of the other, or a Court Order allowing them to do so and neither may consent to the children’s adoption without the consent of the other or a Court Order.

The Court will expect that that where two parents share parental responsibility, it will be the duty of each parent to ensure that the rights of the other parent are respected for the benefit of the child and that important decisions therefore, are made in consultation with the other.

Parents do not need to consult with each other as to routine, day to day decisions concerning activities that the child undertakes when in their care; how the child spends their time; routine discipline; personal care such as washing, dressing, feeding; attending routine medical, dental or optician’s appointments; continuing with prescribed medicines; attendance at school functions or events.

There are also decisions that can be made by one parent without consultation with the other, but which must be notified to the other as soon as practicably possible. These include emergency medical treatment; the intention to take a child abroad; planned visits to a GP or nurse; change of address or living arrangements.

Decisions which do require consultation between the parents include the selection of school that the child is to attend; applications for authorised absence from school; planned medical or dental treatment; cessation of prescribed medication; the age at which a child should be able to watch films recommended for children over the age of 12 and 18; consent to the child’s marriage; change of child’s surname and relocation to another part of England and Wales or overseas.

When Does It End?

Parental responsibility automatically comes to an end when the child reaches the age of 18 years but can be terminated earlier by a Court Order. It also diminishes as the child becomes older and is able to make his/her own decisions with a sufficient level of understanding.

How Are Disputes Resolved?

It is the children’s right to enjoy a meaningful relationship with both parents and they would expect their parents to be able to make important decisions for them in consultation with each other.

Mediation is often beneficial in assisting parents in resolving issues through discussion and negotiation and can help parents communicate more effectively.

In some circumstances, if an agreement cannot be reached between the parents about important decisions that need to be made concerning their children, an application may need to be made to the Court for an Order determining what should or should not happen.

 

Article written by Dawn Gore