Understanding what parental responsibility means and how to obtain a Parental Responsibility Order can be the first step in ensuring you have a say in important decisions about your child’s upbringing.
What is parental responsibility?
Parental responsibility is defined by section 3(1) of the 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”.
It is a legal concept relating to the rights and responsibilities that the holder, typically a parent, has over a child. Parental responsibility legally entitles that person to have a say in important decisions about the child’s health, welfare and education. This includes where the child lives or goes to school, what medical treatment they should receive, what religion the child is raised with, what surname they should carry and whether the child is permitted to leave the jurisdiction.
Do I have parental responsibility?
Some parents automatically have parental responsibility, without the need to obtain a Parental Responsibility Order.
In the UK, all birth mothers automatically have parental responsibility for any child born to them, whether the mother is married or unmarried at the time of the birth. Any father who was married to the mother of the child when the child was born also has parental responsibility.
As an unmarried father, you will have parental responsibility if you have been registered as the child’s father under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 since 1 December 2003.
As a second female partner, you will have parental responsibility if you were in a civil partnership at the time of donor insemination or fertility treatment or, alternatively, are classed as the child’s ‘parent’ under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 and, since 1 September 2009, have been registered as such under the 1953 Act.
In both the case of married fathers and same-sex partners in a civil partnership, the automatic right to parental responsibility will be retained following a divorce or dissolution of the civil partnership.
There are also some instances where a person who is not a parent may have parental responsibility, for example, where there is a Child Arrangements Order in place stipulating that the child lives with you, you are the child’s guardian or you have adopted the child.
How do I obtain parental responsibility?
As the father, or second female partner, you can obtain parental responsibility by marrying the mother, or entering into a civil partnership, following the birth of the child.
You can also jointly register, or re-register, the birth of the child with the mother or, alternatively, enter into a formal Parental Responsibility Agreement with her.
In circumstances where these are not viable options, you can obtain what’s known as a ‘Parental Responsibility Order’.
Who can apply for a Parental Responsibility Order?
To apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order you need to be connected to the child as the child’s father, second female parent or stepparent.
You are classed as a stepparent if you are the spouse or civil partner of the parent of a child who has parental responsibility for that child and you have treated the child as your child.
As the female partner of the child’s mother, you will need to have the status of a ‘parent’ as set out under the 2008 Act to be able to apply.
If you are a grandparent or other relative caring for a child, and an order is made for the child to live with you some or all of the time, the court must make a Parental Responsibility Order while that order is in force.
More than two people can have parental responsibility for a child at the same time. Further, any person who has parental responsibility for a child will not lose their rights and responsibilities solely because another person acquires parental responsibility for that child.
How do I obtain a Parental Responsibility Order?
To obtain a Parental Responsibility Order you will need to complete an application for an order under the Children Act 1989 using Form C1.
Once completed this will need to be submitted to your local county court or family proceedings court. You must also file a separate completed FM1 form with this application. This relates to your obligation to attend mediation with the mother to see if the matter can be resolved informally.
What is the effect of a Parental Responsibility Order?
A Parental Responsibility Order will put your relationship with your child on an official and legal footing. Each person with parental responsibility has an equal right to be informed and make important decisions about the child’s upbringing.
In circumstances where you are unhappy about a major decision concerning the upbringing of your child, you can apply to the court for a Specific Issue or a Prohibited Steps Order. If you do not have a Parental Responsibility Order in place, you can still apply, but you would first need the court’s permission.
A Specific Issue Order is an order sought from the court to determine a specific issue that has, or may arise, in relation to a child’s upbringing. A common example may be a change of surname.
A Prohibited Steps Order is an order of the court to prevent a parent or guardian from taking a certain step without the court’s permission, such as preventing a parent taking a child out of the country.
A Parental Responsibility Order, does not, however, automatically grant you the right to have contact with your child. If arrangements for contact with your child cannot be agreed, you would need to apply to the court for what’s known as a Child Arrangements Order.
If you obtain a Child Arrangements Order stating that the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact with you, the court must, when granting the order, decide whether it is appropriate to grant parental responsibility. If an order is made for your child to live with you some or all of the time, the court must make a Parental Responsibility Order while that order is in force.
Pursuant to section 3(4) of the 1989 Act, the fact that a person has, or does not have, parental responsibility for a child does not affect any obligation that he may have in relation to the child. This includes a statutory duty to support the child financially.
Parental responsibility and surrogacy
As with any birth mother, a surrogate has automatic parental responsibility, even where the baby is not her own biological child.
Further, if the surrogate is married or in a civil partnership, the legal father or second female parent at birth is usually the surrogate’s spouse or civil partner.
As a non-birth parent in a surrogacy situation, you will need to apply to the court for what’s known as a Parental Order. This will reassign parenthood to both intended parents, including all parental rights and responsibility.
Should I seek legal advice in obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order?
The law relating to parental responsibility can be complex, not least when you are also asking the court to decide upon a specific issue or to prevent a decision being made about your child’s health, welfare and education.
You may even be considering asking the court to make a decision as to the residence and contact arrangements for your child.
These types of application are rarely straightforward and it is always best to seek expert legal advice from a specialist in family law.
Your legal adviser can discuss the practical steps that you can take to avoid going to court to obtain a Parental Responsibility Order, advise you on the prospects of a successful outcome and prepare you for any court hearing that proves necessary.