Parental Responsibility is the bundle of rights which parents and others (including Special Guardians or holders of Residence Orders) have over the child/children, which means they are responsible for making the key decisions concerning the child/children’s upbringing such as choice of schools, religious education and consent to medical treatment, until the child in question attains its majority at age 18. Ultimately if agreement cannot be reached by negotiation/mediation, then either party can apply to the Court for a Specific Issue Order.
Who has parental responsibility for a child?
Mums and married fathers automatically have parental responsibility for a child.
Unmarried dads of children born after 1st December 2003 automatically share parental responsibility for a child if he is named on the birth certificate. If not, he can acquire parental responsibility by signed a Parental Responsibility agreement with the mother or obtaining a court order. The court nearly always grants the order provided that the father can show that he is motivated by the child’s best interests, has sufficient connection with the child and that the order would be in the best interests of the child.
Can step-parents have any rights or parental responsibility for a child?
Yes. The easiest way for step parents to share parental responsibility for a child is to sign an agreement with all others who already have parental responsibility for that child.
Otherwise, a step parent can apply for a parental responsibility order. The order would only be granted when it was in the best interests of the child and it was necessary for a step parent to share parental responsibility. For example, if in practice, a parent was always going to be available to exercise responsibility, there is no need for a step-parent to share parental responsibility. A situation where a step-parent would be likely to be granted parental responsibility might be when the natural parent works away from home a lot.
There might be circumstances where it is appropriate for a step-parent to apply for an order confirming that the child lives with them or spends significant amounts of time with a child such as a Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship Order. If an order is granted, the step-parent shares parental responsibility with the parents whilst the order remains in force. An order will only be granted if necessary for the welfare of the child. There is no need for an order if a parent is always available to exercise responsibility. An order might be necessary when a child lives with a step-parent who is likely to have to exercise parental responsibility independently of a parent. This could because the parent(s) work away from home a lot. Sadly, there are also circumstances when the parent dies or becomes incapable of caring for a child. A step-parent can apply for an order for the child to live with them to minimise disruption for the child.
Can people other than parents or step-parents have parental responsibility?
The holders of Special Guardianship Orders, Residence Orders and Adoption Orders confer parental responsibility as long as those Orders remain in force.
From 22nd April 2014 Residence and Contact was replaced by Child Arrangements Orders, which regulate not only where and with whom a child or children is/are to live but also contact/with whom the child/children is/are to spend time with.
Parental Responsibility will automatically be granted under a Child Arrangements Order to a person named as the person with whom the child/children is/are to live unless that person already has parental responsibility. As a result in those circumstances parental responsibility could for instance be automatically granted to an unmarried father, step parent or other family member or guardian, or indeed a second female parent.
In certain circumstances a Court can grant parental responsibility to a party who is to spend time with (as opposed to live with) under a Child Arrangements Order. In those circumstances the Court must determine whether it is appropriate for him/her to be given parental responsibility in the light of the specific provisions of the Order. If the Court considers it appropriate it must give parental responsibility to him/her. This specific provision applies to unmarried fathers or second female parents.
There is also a provision to enable the Court to give parental responsibility to a person who is not a child’s parent or guardian, where a Child Arrangements Order provides for the child/children to spend time with or otherwise have contact with that person although it is anticipated that this power will be exercised rarely.