This is perhaps the single most important concept in the law relating to children.
Parental Responsibility is a legal term used to describe the responsibility, rights and legal authority a person has in respect of a child. Parental responsibility concerns the issues which arise when bringing up a child and someone with parental responsibility is entitled to participate, for example
- in naming the child;
- in deciding the child’s religion;
- in taking decisions over the child’s schooling and education.
Someone with parental responsibility is entitled
- to be informed of changes in the child’s welfare;
- to receive school reports and to attend school parents' evenings;
- to be notified of and included in any court proceedings relating to the child.
Someone with parental responsibility is entitled to make decisions about the child; but, where two people have parental responsibility, they are each free to make conflicting decisions! This is the legal reason why a separating couple need to maintain a good working relationship with one another, wherever possible taking decisions about their children by agreement.
The alternative is to ask the Court to decide issues. What parental responsibility does not give any one person is the right to have control over the child’s day to day life. If matters result in court proceedings, the Court will look at what is in the best interests of the child.
The following have parental responsibility:
- the mother of the child;
- the father of the child providing he is or was married to the child’s mother;
- the father of the child, where the child was born after 1 December 2003 and where he is named on the child’s birth certificate;
- anyone who is given parental responsibility under a Parental Responsibility Agreement or Parental Responsibility Order.
Someone who does not have parental responsibility for a child may acquire it:
- by signing a formal Parental Responsibility Agreement with the other people who have parental responsibility, usually the child’s mother; or
- by a Parental Responsibility Order.
If a father seeks a Court Order for parental responsibility the test the Court applies can be summarised to include:
- does he have a sufficient attachment to the child?
- does he have a sufficient commitment to the child?
- is he applying for the right motives?
A ‘right motive’ might include that he wishes to see his role in the child’s life officially recognised.