Do I have the right to make decisions about my child?

    Do I have the right to make decisions about my child?

    What is Parental Responsibility?

    ‘Parental Responsibility’ or ‘PR’ is the bundle of rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and obligations that somebody can have in relation to a child under 18.

    Having Parental Responsibility gives somebody the legal ability to either make or be involved in the making of decisions about a child and the responsibility to make sure the child is well-looked after and safe.

    If somebody has Parental Responsibility for a child, they can exercise this unilaterally (meaning without consulting other Parental Responsibility holders) to make day-to-day decisions like: what clothes to dress a child in, what to feed a child for dinner or whether to let a child sleep over at a friend’s house.

    However, there is an expectation that all holders of Parental Responsibility are consulted on major decisions concerning a child, with a view to all Parental Responsibility holders agreeing how to proceed. ‘Major’ decisions could include (but are not limited to):-

    • Which school a child should attend
    • Whether a child should undergo a specific operation or medical procedure
    • Whether a child should go on holiday abroad
    • Whether a child’s surname should be changed
    • What religion a child should follow

    Having Parental Responsibility is therefore important in providing people with the legal rights and responsibilities involved in decision-making about a child.

    Who has Parental Responsibility?

    Some people obtain Parental Responsibility automatically. It is automatically acquired by:-

    • The mother/person who gave birth to the child
    • The spouse or civil-partner of the person who gave birth to the child (if they are married/civilly partnered at the time of the child’s birth)

    Who else may obtain Parental Responsibility?

    Contrary to popular belief, Parental Responsibility in respect of a child is not automatically gained by unmarried fathers.

    It is only automatic for fathers married to the person giving birth.

    Unmarried fathers can gain Parental Responsibility by:

    • Being named on the child’s birth certificate;
    • Entering into a written Parental Responsibility Agreement with other holders of Parental Responsibility, confirming that the father is to have Parental Responsibility;
    • Obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the Family Court.

    Other prominent caregivers in a child’s life may also consider looking to obtain Parental Responsibility for that child. For example, step parents may wish to obtain Parental Responsibility for their step-child by Parental Responsibility Agreement or by making an application to the Family Court for a Parental Responsibility Order.

    If a Care Order is made in respect of a child, the local authority will be granted Parental Responsibility for the child.

    It is also possible to obtain Parental Responsibility through a Child Arrangements Order for a child to live with a person. This will grant that person Parental Responsibility for the duration of the Child Arrangements Order.

    Further, if somebody has a Special Guardianship Order in respect of a child, they gain Parental Responsibility. Whilst, typically, all holders of Parental Responsibility have ‘equal’ levels of Parental Responsibility, Special Guardians obtain a ‘superior’ form. This enables Special Guardians to exercise their Parental Responsibility to the exclusion of others, in some situations. Although they are generally still expected to consult and obtain agreement from all holders of Parental Responsibility.

    What if people with Parental Responsibility cannot agree?

    There may be times when people with Parental Responsibility for a child can’t come to an agreement about a specific issue that has arisen. For example, a separated mother and father may be unable to decide which school their child should attend or perhaps one parent wishes to change their child’s surname to be the same as theirs.

    Where there is a significant dispute on a matter between holders of Parental Responsibility, it may be appropriate to consider mediation as a forum for resolving this.

    If mediation is not deemed appropriate or if an agreement still cannot be reached, an application to the Family Court could be made for a ‘Specific Issues Order’ addressing the specific issue, or a ‘Prohibited Steps Order’, preventing somebody with Parental Responsibility from doing a specific thing.

    Understanding Parental Responsibility and what it means can be challenging. Our friendly and knowledgeable Family Team can help with all queries relating to Parental Responsibility, applications to the Family Court for Orders and Parental Responsibility Agreements. Please get in touch to discuss your personal circumstances.


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