With more than one in three children now born outside marriage it is important to know what parental responsibility means. Parental responsibility is all about how the law sees you as the legitimate parent of your child. It defines a number of legal rights, obligations and privileges in the relationship between a child and child’s parent, or those who care for it. Below are a few examples of rights and obligations that form part of legal parental responsibility:
- Naming the child;
- Responsibility for the child’s behaviour including disciplining;
- Providing a home for the child;
- Having regular contact and attachment with the child;
- Protecting and supporting the child’s living;
- Ensuring health and medical care;
- Providing consent to medical treatment;
- Ensuring and choosing the child’s education;
- Having control over confidential information about the child;
- Responsibility for the child’s belongings.
Without parental responsibility you will not have any control over your child’s upbringing. You will not be able to oppose the child’s adoption, removal from the country from a significant period of time, see child’s medical and educational records and veto name change. This in extreme scenarios could result in you potentially losing contact with your child and not being able to find it for a long time. On the other hand, it is important to point out that parental responsibility on its own does not legally grant a separated father with per se right to see his child, although it is the most common first step towards it.
Normally, parents will have parental responsibility but also others; can have parental responsibility for a child. For instance, a local authority for children in its care, a child’s guardian, a child’s stepfather or stepmother and perhaps a child’s grandparents or other relatives will be able to acquire parental responsibility in certain circumstances. It is also possible for up to six people to have parental responsibility for a child at the same time.
Also, same sex couples that have registered their commitment to one another can legally become step parents to any children born to their partners. This also includes any adopted children. In this case, parental responsibility can be acquired by either voluntary parental responsibility agreement with every person who has parental responsibility for the child or a parental responsibility or residence order.
In the UK, mothers have always parental responsibility from the day the child is born. Fathers acquire such responsibility automatically only if they are married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth. Alternatively, fathers can become legally responsible for their children through:
- registration of the birth of their child with the mother’s consent (this is applicable to children born after 1 December 2003);
- re-registration of the birth with inclusion of the father’s name on the birth certificate;
- marriage to the mother;
- a voluntary parental responsibility agreement with the mother signed in the presence of a witness;
- a Residence Order specifying arrangements as to the person with whom a child is to live.
If you cannot obtain mother’s consent you will have to apply for a parental responsibility order. The order can be granted by the courts only if the father can demonstrate:
- degree of commitment to his child;
- degree of emotional bond between the father and his child;
- genuine intentions and any other compelling reasons which can potentially justify the order.
Any decision made by the court will be in the child’s best interest and this includes recommendation for alternative orders to the one applied for. These orders may include:
- Special Guardianship giving the holder (usually a carer) a right to make decisions for the child up to the age of 18;
- Adoption Order.
Different considerations apply for couples that get separated or divorced. In such case all decisions are based on what is in the child’s best interest rather than on who has parental responsibility.