Parental Responsibility – What is it?

Family lawyers are often asked, ‘what rights do I have over my child?’. The reality is that a parent’s legal position in respect of their children is one of responsibility rather than rights.

Many parents will have encountered the term ‘Parental Responsibility’ (often abbreviated to PR), when they find themselves party to family court proceedings. Parents may have even faced difficulty when making decisions relating to their children and become aware they don’t actually have Parental Responsibility. Parents with PR will in fact be exercising their responsibilities every day even if they don’t know it.

So, what is it?

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

“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.”

PR is not a tangible thing. It is a legal role that encapsulates the duties that parents have for their children, providing their care and the decisions they can make that set what their upbringing looks like.

These responsibilities are exercised in the day-to-day decision making when it comes to a child’s education and health. It also extends to more significant decision making in respect of a child’s life, for example, consenting to a child having a medical procedure, changing a child’s name, or choosing which religion they ought to be raised with.

Who has it?

It is important to realise that not everyone fulfilling a parental role will have PR.

Some will be given automatic Parental Responsibility by virtue of being;

  1. A child’s biological mother
  2. The father of a child who was married or in a Civil Partnership with a mother at the time of the birth. (Even if the parents’ divorce or separate, the father retains his PR.)
  3. Fathers who are registered on a child’s birth certificate after 1st December 2003
  4. Second female parents who were married to/in a civil partnership with the biological mother at the time of conception

How do I get it?

A parent without pr can obtain it in a number of ways:

  1. Marrying or becoming civilly partnered to the child’s mother
  2. Having their name registered on a child’s birth certificate
  3. Entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother
  4. Obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from a Family Court
  5. Being named as the parent a child should live within a Child Arrangements Order

Where a parent cannot get the agreement of the other parent with PR, an application to Court may be necessary. Pursuant to the Children Act 1989, a Judge can make an Order that declares a Parent hereby has Parental Responsibility for the subject child.

Guardians may also seek PR to make decisions relating to a child in their care. For example, a grandparent with care of their grandchild.

It is prudent to get solid legal advice in these instances.


Disagreements on decisions

Even where both parents hold PR, difficulties can still arise where parents cannot agree on major issues in a child’s life. This can cause particular difficulties for parents who are separated.

However, in daily life, one parent can make decisions without the consent of the other parent with PR. For example, a child attending their friend’s house after school or going to a birthday party.

There are, however, some decisions that require the consent of both parties with PR. These include, but are not limited to, moving abroad or changing a child’s name.

Where parents with PR cannot agree on a specific issue, or if one parent seeks to prevent another parent from taking a particular step relating to their child, the Court can make a Specific Issue Order or Prohibited Order pursuant to the Children Act 1989.

At MSB, we regularly advice parents and families on issues and information relating to PR, and can support with court processes. Legal advice and representation is available for all of the issues discussed in this blog. Contact