Parental responsibility is one of those phrases most parents think is a bit self-evident. After all if you are a parent then you have responsibility for your child. Simple isn’t it? It is only when parents separate or divorce that the vaguely heard of legal concept of parental responsibility can become a bone of contention between parents with them not always fully appreciating what the legal concept of parental responsibility is, whether they already have it and, if not, how to get a parental responsibility agreement.

What is parental responsibility?

At its simplest, parental responsibility is about the rights and responsibilities for your child. Many parents sail through life without needing to know about the legal concept of parental responsibility, automatically assuming that they have the right to decide on whether their child is enrolled at a particular school and that they can make decisions on behalf of their child such as whether their son or daughter should be immunised or have a haircut. In other families life isn’t as simple and they need to know where they stand on parental responsibility.

Who has parental responsibility?

For many parents there is no need to get a parental responsibility agreement because they already have parental responsibility. Parents who automatically have parental responsibility are:
● The child’s mother;
● The child’s father if he is married to the child’s mother;
● The adoptive parents of an adopted child;
● The child’s father if he is named as the father on the child’s birth certificate (after a certain date depending on where the child was born in the UK);
● If the child’s parents are unmarried the child’s father will have parental responsibility if he registered the child’s birth with the mother (after a certain date depending on where the registration took place in the UK).

How do you get parental responsibility?

If a mother agrees to a father having parental responsibility for a child the easiest way to get parental responsibility is to fill in a parental responsibility agreement. The form records that the biological father of the child is acquiring parental responsibility for the child. The father will then share parental responsibility with the child’s mother.

As parental responsibility is an important legal concept the document has to be a standard agreement form and signatures have to be witnessed at your local court. Paperwork confirming the parents and child’s identity also need to be produced.

What if parental responsibility can’t be agreed?

If the child’s mother and father cannot agree on whether the child’s father should have parental responsibility the father of the child can apply to court for a parental responsibility court order. The court will usually grant an application for a parental responsibility order unless there are unusual circumstances resulting in it not being in the child’s best interests for a parental responsibility order to be made.

Do you have to pay child support if you have parental responsibility for your child?

Whether or not you have legal parental responsibility for your biological child you are still under a financial obligation to support your child .If you cannot reach an agreement over the amount of child support that should be paid for your child an application can be made to the child maintenance service.

What happens if both parents cannot agree on how they should share parental responsibility for their child?

If two parents have parental responsibility for a child they share parental responsibility; neither parent has more ‘rights’ than the other. If they cannot reach an agreement over the arrangements for their child, such as:
● Should the child have a medical procedure or immunisation;
● Should the child be baptised or circumcised;
● Should the child attend a religious faith school or a boarding school
Either parent can apply to court for a specific issue order for the court to decide on the issue in dispute between the parents. The court will make its decision based on what it thinks is in the best interests of the child.

If a father doesn’t have parental responsibility for a child by agreement or court order he is still able to apply to court for orders relating to the child, such as child arrangement or specific issue orders.

For information and advice about any aspect of children law please call me on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at louise@evolvefamilylaw.co.uk

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