Parental Responsibility - What is it?
There are many possible definitions of Parental Responsibility (often shortened to PR). It is difficult to define completely but in effect it ends the legal recognition of all the rights and responsibilities of being a parent.
What does this mean in practice?
The best way to define it is to give some examples. If you have PR you are entitled to be consulted about important life decisions concerning your child. For example:
- Where a child goes to school
- Significant medical procedures
- A child's name
- What religion a child follows or is taught
- Whether a child can go abroad
- Where a child lives
Note the word consulted. This is not the same as decide. If parents cannot agree on these issues it is sometimes necessary to get a Court to decide between the competing views.
However, it is also worth noting what PR does not entitle a parent to do. It does not entitle a parent to interfere in the day-to-day care arrangements for a child whilst they are in that parents' care. So for example someone with PR does not have to be consulted about:
- What the child wears
- What time the child goes to bed or eats a meal
- What a child eats
- Where that child goes on a day trip
- What the child watches on TV
That is not to say that good parents who have separated do not find a way to talk about all these things, and so they should. It just means that PR is not a licence to tell the other parent how to look after a child every minute of the day.
An important part of PR is the ability to give consent to medical treatment (although this does not often hamper minor treatment and any major treatments should always involve consultation with the other parent).
Also if you have PR you have a legal right to ask schools and doctors to give you information about your child (e.g. school reports and medical records).
The responsibility part of PR is often forgotten. For example, a Court will often tell parents that it is part of their PR to make sure that the child sees the other parent!
Who has Parental Responsibility?
All mothers have PR automatically.
All fathers who are or have been married to the mother of their child have PR automatically, even if they got married after the birth of that child.
If the child was born after 1st December 2003 and the father is named on the birth certificate, he has PR for that child.
Any father who was not married to the mother of the child and is not named on the birth certificate does not have PR for that child.
If the child was born before 1st December 2003 and the father has not been married to the mother of the child then he does not have PR for that child.
If someone is given a Residence Order they automatically get PR for the child who is the subject of the Residence Order (even if not a parent). This lasts for the duration of the Residence Order. If the Residence Order is granted to a father, then the PR does not come to an end if the Residence Order ends.
If I do not have PR do I have to pay child maintenance?
How can I get PR if I do not have it?
If you are the child's father - two ways.
The first is to fill in a Parental Responsibility Agreement between the Father and the Mother of the child and lodge this with a Court. Obviously the child's mother has to agree to this. You can pick up a form from your local court or download one here and the notes attached explain what you both have to do. This form is in PDF format.
The second is to ask a Court to given you an order granting you PR.
Will a Court grant a Father PR?
The usual answer is yes.
If the Father has contact with the child - yes.
If and when the father has shown commitment to the child, even if contact has no actually taken place - yes.
If the father has any sort of a relationship with the child - yes.
In fact, as time goes on it becomes almost automatic that at some stage during a Court case the Court will give a father who does not have PR an order granting him it. The reality of the situation is that the Mother has to show why it should not be granted.
The one word of caution is that a father might have to wait especially if the Court is just re-starting contact after a break.
There are very few circumstances in which a Court will not give a father PR. However, if the Court concludes that the main or sole purpose of getting PR is to use it to make things unreasonably difficult for the mother or to in some way control the mother then it may not grant it.
PR can be revoked but only in very exceptional circumstances (for example where a parent has committed a very serious criminal offence against the other parent or the child).
How do non-parents get PR?
A non-parent can get PR by getting a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order for a Child.
A Step-Parent who is married or is a Civil Partner of a biological parent can be granted PR for a child under section 4CA of The Children Act 1989.
There are other more specialist ways in which PR can be granted where there has been surrogacy or adoption.