Parental Responsibility was introduced under the Children Act 1989 and is a shift away from the belief that parents have rights over the children and instead introduces the concept that parents have a responsibility to their children. Parental control is for the benefit of the child not the parent.
The Children Act 1989 (s.3(1)) defines the term 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”.
In reality the parent has responsibility for taking all the important decisions in a child’s life i.e. education, religion and medical care. It also allows a parent to make decisions in the day to day life of the child. The duties a parent has to a child changes from time to time and as a child gets older and matures.
Married parents have joint parental responsibility. If the parents are not married only the mother automatically has parental responsibility.
An unmarried father can acquire parental responsibility in one of 6 ways:
- By being registered on the child’s birth certificate with the consent of the mother.
- By entering into a ‘Parental Responsibility’ agreement with the mother.
- By applying to Court for a Parental Responsibility Order.
- By being appointed guardian either by the mother or by the Court. However in this case the father will assume parental responsibility only on the mothers death.
- By obtaining a Child Arrangements Order from the court for the child to live with him.
- By marrying the mother.
Step-parents and civil partners can obtain parental responsibility agreements with the consent of all parties with parental responsibility or by applying to the court.
Various other people may also acquire parental responsibility towards a child. A Local Authority will acquire it if a Care Order is made as will anyone who is granted a Child Arrangements (Live With) Order or a Special Guardianship Order for the child. The Court will also gain parental responsibility if the child is made a ward of the court.
There is no limit to the number of people who can have parental responsibility at any one time and no one will lose it just because someone else acquires it. It is not possible to surrendedr or transfer parental responsibility. There are two situations in which parents will lose parental responsibility:
- The parents death.
- The child’s adoption.
An unmarried father may lose parental responsibility if the Court makes an order ending it where it was acquired by parental responsibility order or agreement or registration on the birth certificate. Anyone else who acquired parental responsibility by being granted a residence order will lose it when any such order comes to an end.
It is possible for one person with parental responsibility to act alone without consulting others who have parental responsibility. The only way to challenge a decision is to make an application to the Court.