What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is defined as all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and its property. In reality, this means that you are responsible for important decisions in the life of your child – for example those concerning education, religion and medical care as well as day-to-day decisions.

Fathers are not automatically entitled to parental responsibility unless they were married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or after the birth of the child or, in the case of not being married at that time, they signed the birth certificate. More than one person can have parental responsibility and s.2(7) of the Children Act 1989 provides that each person with parental responsibility may act alone or without the other in meeting that responsibility.

The only restrictions placed on parental responsibility are that one parent cannot remove a child from the United Kingdom without the consent of the other parent or person with parental responsibility and the agreement of all parties must be obtained before a child can be placed for adoption, were this situation ever to arise. Furthermore, it has been held by the Court of Appeal in Re G (Parental Responsibility: Education) [1994] that every parent with parental responsibility must be consulted before any other person with parental responsibility makes an important decision regarding the life of the child – for example, changing schools.

There are also a small number of decisions where, if there is a disagreement between the parties, the matter must be referred to the Court. Such situations include irreversible medical treatment, change of name and change of habitual residence.

A person who has parental responsibility for a child will not cease to have responsibility simply because someone else acquires it – for example, in the case of a step-parent. Parental responsibility will only cease on the child attaining the age of 18 or being adopted.

Parental responsibility has nothing to do with where the child lives. Furthermore, it has nothing to do with whether a father or mother has contact with the child. Parental responsibility enables parents to know important things about their children’s welfare and education as well as being able to have an input into the child’s life. This does not mean that the person’s input has to be acted upon. It does mean, however, that in the event that a parent’s input is not acted upon and he or she feels sufficiently strongly about it, that parent can ask the Court to intervene to decide what the correct course of action should be.

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