Parental Responsibility: what it is, why it matters and how to get it

31 January 2013

Parental Responsibility is a legal status an adult can hold in relation to a child, which gives that adult all the ‘rights and responsibilities’ of a parent. Married parents have this automatically, and so do all mothers. Unmarried fathers don’t.

Does it matter?

Yes. Without PR a parent cannot authorise medical treatment for a child and has no right to see its medical records. A parent without PR cannot veto the child’s adoption, change of surname, or removal from the country for a significant period. But once a parent has Parental Responsibility he has a right to see his child’s medical records, authorise medical treatment, and veto name-change, adoption and overseas travel. And the child’s mother is now expected to consult him on important child-raising issues, such as religious and secular education. All that applies whether or not he is living with his child.

Also note that
• Parental Responsibility does not guarantee a separated father contact with his child. However, it is usually the first step towards it.
• Parental Responsibility can be held by more than one parent-figure of either sex at the same time. Grandparents, step-parents, same-sex partners and other people with day to day care of a child can be awarded Parental Responsibility as well as the biological parents.

So how do you get Parental Responsibility?

There are six ways of obtaining Parental Responsibility:

A. The first way is to have your name put on the birth certificate when you register the birth of your child (if your child was born after 1 Dec 2003).

This requires the mother’s consent (and if the mother doesn’t consent, you will need to go for a Parental Responsibility Order through the courts – see ‘E’ below).

B. The second way is to re-register the birth, and have your name put on the birth certificate this time

C. The third way is to marry the mother of your child

You can be married at the time you register the birth – or you can marry afterwards. However, if you were not married at the time of your child’s birth, and your name is not on the birth certificate, you will need to make sure that, as well as marrying your child’s mother, your name is put on the birth certificate (consult a solicitor).

D. The fourth way is by both you and the mother of your child signing what is known as a “Parental Responsibility Agreement” (PRA).

E. The fifth way is to get Parental Responsibility without the agreement or willingness of your child’s mother – and this is called a Parental Responsibility Order (because a Judge ‘orders’ it in the face of her opposition).

You will need to apply to a court.  Find out more from the Government’s website. You may want to hire a solicitor.  However, it can be quite simple to represent yourself, or take along a “McKenzie Friend” – a lay person who understands the system.  To find out more visit Fathers Need Families

F. You can obtain Parental Responsibility by way of a Residence Order – that is, if a judge rules that your child is to live with you.

Read ‘Parental rights and responsibilities’ on the Government website.

This article originally appeared in 2008 and was updated in 2013.

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