What is parental responsibility?

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is the legal responsibilities, duties, powers and authority a carer of a child has for that child.

A person with parental responsibility has the authority to make day to day and key decisions in a child’s life. This can include decisions around:

  • Health care
  • Education
  • Holidays
  • Religion
  • Name of a child
  • Location

A person with parental responsibility is responsible for making decisions which are in the best interests of the child.

Who has parental responsibility?

Mothers automatically obtain parental responsibility.

Fathers will obtain parental responsibility automatically if they are married to the mother at the time of birth or afterwards.

Why is parental responsibility important? 

A person with parental responsibility can make decisions which will affect a child’s welfare, upbringing and education. Key decisions, such as schooling, medical care and religion are to be determined by agreement of everyone with parental responsibility for the child.

If only a mother has parental responsibility, she can decide on the child’s name, which school they attend, what medical treatment they have, where the child lives etc. She can do this without discussing it with anyone else. If anyone else has parental responsibility for the child then these decisions are to be made together.

If those with parental responsibility cannot agree, there are legal avenues which can be explored in order to reach those decisions.

For professionals, if you have carers who share parental responsibility any decisions should be made jointly by those carers. (NB see Special Guardian’s below). Be aware of who has parental responsibility.

How can you get parental responsibility?

There are a number of ways a person can obtain parental responsibility.

  • Being named on a child’s birth certificate: If a child was born after 1 December 2003 and a person is named as the father or civil partner on the child’s birth certificate, they will obtain parental responsibility. If a child was born before that date and the father was not married to the mother, he will not automatically obtain parental responsibility unless he was married to mother at the time or afterwards.


  • Re-register the child’s birth: This is an option in limited circumstances.


Parental Responsibility agreement: This is a formal agreement, not just a conversational or informal agreement. A PR agreement can be written using the appropriate court form and doesn’t need a solicitor. It does have to be registered. Parents should keep hold of a copy to make sure everyone who needs it can have a copy to show a father has parental responsibility.

Parental Responsibility OrderThis is a court order. A father would need to make an application to the court to get such an order. Once made, it will give a father parental responsibility.

Child Arrangements OrderThis is another court order. These orders have replaced residence and contact orders. Only a child arrangements order stating where a child is to live will give parental responsibility. It will only give parental responsibility to the person the court says the child should live with. A child arrangements order may be made to a parent, grandparent or other relative or carer, depending upon the circumstances.

Becoming  a Special GuardianThis is an order which is given to carers of a child. It gives overarching parental responsibility to those named as a Special Guardian. I mentioned above that decisions about a child’s life need to be made jointly by all those who share parental responsibility. If they cannot agree then there are avenues to follow. However, if some of the carers have acquired parental responsibility through being made Special Guardians, their decision will trump that of those with ordinary parental responsibility. For this reason it is really important to know how the carers have acquired parental responsibility. Note that parents CANNOT be Special Guardians.

Becoming a legal guardianThis occurs when someone is named as a guardian in a will and, after death of a parent, there is no one else with parental responsibility.

AdoptionWhen a child is adopted, the adoptive parents acquire parental responsibility. Birth parents and anyone else with parental responsibility will lose it.

What does this mean for you as a professional? 

As a professional working with children, it is important that you know who can make decisions on behalf of a child.

Often it is not the parents who are taking the children to school or after school activities. Who are you taking information from? Who are you giving information to? Should you be doing this?

Too often, when parents separate, one parent doesn’t want the other to have any information from school. In my experience, too often a school, club or other agency will go along with what this parent wants. This needs to stop.

Any person with parental responsibility is entitled to information about a child unless there is a very good reason for that information being withheld. Good reasons can include a court order preventing the information being shared, the child being at risk if the information is shared (such as in a domestic abuse situation).

Every situation will need to be looked at on its own. If you have any doubt, you should speak to your legal advisors.

Any agency working with children needs to know who can make decisions. You should, wherever possible, have proof of the parental responsibility. This could be through:

  • having a copy of the child’s birth certificate
  • knowing parents are married
  • having a copy of any parental responsibility agreement or court order
  • having a copy of the court order stating where the child is to live
  • a copy of the Special Guardianship Order
  • a copy of the Adoption order (if step parent adoption)

This documentation is confidential and should be treated as such. It needs to be kept somewhere which can be accessed, safely, to verify issues around decision making. If you are in any doubt, or want further clarification on a particular issue you should speak to your legal advisors.

Remember , if you do not check who is making the decisions and who you are giving information to, you may find yourself in a very difficult position and could, potentially, be asked to explain why you acted in such a way before a court. In this current climate we are very aware of who a child goes home with, but are you as aware of who can make life changing decisions for a child?



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Content Disclaimer

The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this blog are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this blog. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this blog. Katherine T Young Ltd & Kate Young disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this blog.

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