How parental responsibility is NOT an automatic right for the father/civil parent

Whilst a biological mother is automatically granted parental responsibility, that is not the case for the father or civil parent. In this blog we explain all you need to know about parental responsibility and what you need to do to get it. 

Mum + Dad/civil parent = child = equal parental responsibility, yes? No. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Firstly, let’s look at what parental responsibility is.

Parental Responsibility is defined in s 3(1) Children Act 1989 as being:

“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.” ‘Parental Responsibility’ focuses more on the parent’s duties towards the child rather than the parent’s rights over the child.

But how does that translate into everyday life?

During a child’s upbringing there are certain decisions that need to be made and the person(s) with parental responsibility is allowed to have a say in that decision. These decisions include:

  • determining the child’s education and where they go to school
  • choosing, registering or changing the child’s name
  • appointing a child’s guardian in the event of the death of a parent
  • consenting to a child’s medical treatment/surgery
  • accessing a child’s medical records
  • consenting to taking the child abroad for holidays or extended stays
  • representing the child in legal proceedings
  • determining the religion of the child. Mixed cultural backgrounds should include exposure to both religions of those with parental responsibility, until the child is of an age where they can make their own religious choices.

Who has Parental Responsibility?

Biological mothers automatically DO have Parental Responsibility.

Fathers who are NOT married to or in a civil partnership with the mother DO NOT automatically have Parental Responsibility.

Fathers who are married or in a civil partnership with the mother DO automatically have Parental Responsibility and even if Mum and Dad divorce or the civil partnership is dissolved, parental responsibility remains intact.

Second female parents who were married to/or in a civil partnership with the biological mother at the time of conception DO have parental responsibility. However, if conception was a result of sexual intercourse to which the second female wife/civil partner did not consent, then parental responsibility for her is void.

Step-parents DO NOT automatically have parental responsibility.

Grandparents DO NOT automatically have parental responsibility. 

So as an unmarried father, or a father not in a civil partnership, how can you obtain parental responsibility?

There are several ways to gain parental responsibility and these include:

  1. Marrying or entering into a civil partnership with the biological mother.
  2. Having his name registered or re-registered on the birth certificate if his name is not already registered.
  3. Entering into a mutually consented Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother. This is an agreement where both parents agree to allow shared parental responsibility when the parents are not married or in a civil partnership together.
  4. Obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the court – under the Children Act 1989, fathers can apply when they are not married or in a civil partnership with the mother and the mother refuses to register or re-register the father on the birth certificate or refuses to sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement with him.
  5. Having obtained a Child Arrangement Order (formally a Residence Order) which establishes with whom the child will live and being legally named as the resident parent.

Are Parental Responsibility and Child Maintenance linked?

No. Parental responsibility and child maintenance are, in law, completely separate. Regardless of your relationship status, the father still has a financial duty to provide child support. If you have any concerns about parental responsibility or find yourself in a position where agreement cannot be reached, Sheryl Perry Solicitors can help. We have the expertise and legal knowledge behind us to support you and your child in such situations.

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