Primer on Parental Responsibility

Advanced Family Law solicitor Stephen Hargreaves from Inghams’ Cleveleys Office provides an in-depth roundup of the fundamentals of Parental Responsibility.


In the absence of Parental Responsibility, a parent has very limited rights in respect of a child. It is important for every parent to acquire Parental Responsibility where this is not held automatically.

Parental Responsibility, or PR, is defined in the Children Act 1989 as:

“all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to a child and his property”

Essentials

You automatically have PR for a child if you are:

  • The mother
  • The father and are either married to or divorced from the mother
  • The Civil Partner of a woman who gives birth as a result of donor insemination and who consented to that donor insemination, or a woman who was that woman’s Civil Partner at any time during the period between the donor insemination and the child’s birth

All other persons, including a child’s unmarried father, and the mother’s female partner who was not in a Civil Partnership with her at the time the mother received donor insemination, or at the time of the child’s birth, must acquire PR for the child.

The Detail

  1. PR where parents are not married to each other or not in a Civil Partnership

    Where a child’ mother and father are not married to each other at the time of the child’s birth, the mother has automatic PR for the child and the father has PR if he has acquired it and not ceased to have it.

  2. An unmarried father can acquire PR for his child

    • A child’s unmarried father and mother may provide for the father to have PR via a PR “agreement” in a prescribed form. This agreement must be sent to the Principal Registry of the Family Division of the High Court in order to become effective.
    • Furthermore, a local authority with PR for the child cannot prevent the mother from entering a PR “agreement” with the father.
    • A father can also apply to the Court for a PR “order”. The Court will decide the matter upon the basis of the father’s commitment to and attachment with his child, and also upon the basis of his having satisfactory reasons for the application.
    • The unmarried father has a duty to maintain his child even in the absence of PR. He also has rights in relation to his child’s property in the event of the child’s death. He is the child’s “parent” under the Children Act 1989 even if he does not have PR.
  3. If an unmarried father without PR marries the mother

    He will automatically get PR if he is living in England and Wales at the date of the marriage.

  4. A female partner of a woman who has given birth to a child as a result of donor insemination who is not the Civil Partner of the mother but who, at the time of the insemination which resulted in conception had a written notice of consent signed by the mother to her being treated as the child’s parent must acquire PR by:

    • Registration as the child’s parent in accordance with the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953
    • Entering a PR “agreement” with the child’s mother (in the same way as an unmarried father can acquire PR)
    • An order that she has PR on the woman’s application
  5. Shared PR

    More than one person may have PR for a child at the same time: a person shall not lose PR solely because some other person acquires it for the same child.

  6. PR can be delegated

    Any part of PR can be delegated to be met by that person(s). Such arrangement does not absolve the person with PR from liability which may arise from any failure to meet any part of his PR for the child.

  7. PR can be lost

    PR may be lost upon discharge of a Residence Order made in someone’s favour; or upon discharge of a PR “Order” or PR “Agreement”. An example of this being such an Order or Agreement made in favour of a child’s female parent by virtue of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, Section 43.

  8. A parent with PR or parents with Joint PR may appoint another person to be the child’s guardian in the event of his/her/their death(s)

    The guardian will have PR in consequence on death where:

    • There is no surviving parent with PR; or
    • Immediately before his death the parent (or guardian) had a Residence Order in his favour, unless the surviving parent also has a Residence Order or, in the case of a Special Guardian, that person was the child’s only or sole surviving Special Guardian.
  9. The Court may appoint a Guardian in certain circumstances

  10. The Court can terminate PR
  11. Right to protect a child’s welfare in the absence of PR

    A person caring for a child, without PR, may (subject to the provisions of the Children Act 1989) do whatever is reasonable in the circumstances for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare.

  12. In certain circumstances a step-parent may also acquire PR

    When a child’s parent with PR is either married to or the Civil Partner of a person who is the child’s step-parent, the step-parent may acquire PR:-

    • With the agreement of the parents to whom the step-parent is married or in a Civil Partnership with, or the agreement of both parents if the other parent also has PR for the child (the step-parent also agreeing); or
    • By order of the Court upon the step-parent’s application
  13. In certain circumstances a second female parent can also acquire PR

  14. Rights given by PR

    PR does not give the person who obtains PR a right to interfere in matters within the day-to-day management of the child’s life. In fact, PR confers a legal “status” upon the person awarded PR – usually the father. This legal “status” grants what may be called “rights” so far as the child is concerned, such as:-

    • Consent to the child’s adoption or being made the subject of a Placement Order, must be given or dispensed with by the Court
    • The right to become a Respondent in any Children Act 1989 proceedings for the child
    • The right to consent to medical treatment
    • The right to appoint a legal guardian
    • The right to consent for his child under 16 years to be taken out or sent out of the UK

Stephen Hargreaves is a practising family law solicitor in Thornton-Cleveleys. He holds membership of the Law Society’s Family section and is a member of the Law Society’s Advanced Family Panel and Children Panel. He is also Resolution accredited, specialising in children matters and domestic abuse. If you are in any doubt as to your rights call him now on 01253 824111.