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Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility is the legal right to make important decisions about a child’s upbringing including issues such as education, medical treatment, change of a child’s name and removal of the child from the jurisdiction (England and Wales).

It does not however give any right to interfere with the day to day decisions affecting a child’s life that should be made by the parent with primary care of the child at the time.

A mother will always have parental responsibility.

A Father will have parental responsibility if his name is on the birth certificate (after 1st December 2003) or if he is married to the mother.

How can an unmarried father acquire parental responsibility?

This can be achieved in the following ways:-

  • Both the father and the mother signing a Parental Responsibility Agreement.
  • Obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the Court.
  • Obtaining a Child Arrangement Order from the court that the child lives with you (formerly a Residence Order).
  • Marrying the mother of the child.

How can a step-parent acquire parental responsibility?

This can be achieved by:-

  • All holders of parental responsibility entering into an agreement.
  • Obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the Court.

What is a Parental Responsibility Agreement?

It is an agreement made between the mother and the unmarried parent, to allow the other parent joint parental responsibility for the child.

The Parental Responsibility Agreement must be signed and witnessed by a justices’ clerk or court officer and it must be filed at the Principal Registry of the Family Division in order to make it legal.

What is a Parental Responsibility Order?

An order under the Children Act 1989, which unmarried parents can apply for in circumstances when the mother does not allow that parent to be registered on the birth certificate or refuses to sign a parental responsibility agreement with him/her.

The process involves an application to court for the court to decide whether or not they should allow the other to have Parental Responsibility.

The court will consider a number of factors including that person's commitment, attachment and reasons for applying.

The court will make the decision based upon the best interests of the child but in reality will normally make the order.

Same Sex Parents

The legal issue of parental responsibility in same sex relationships is complex and is determined by the manner in which the child is conceived. Same sex couples considering having a child should always obtain legal advice so that parents are clear in respect if the legal position and their legal rights in relation to that child.

Female parents who are civil partners:

  • A lesbian couple who are civil partners at the time of conception AND conceive a child through artificial insemination will both automatically be treated as the child’s legal parents and will share Parental Responsibility for the child.
  • The conception must be through artificial insemination, either through a fertility clinic or by private arrangement at home and not through sexual intercourse.
  • The non biological mother (the non birth mother) must consent to the conception. Consent is however presumed unless proved otherwise.
  • If all of the above is satisfied then the non biological mother can be named on the birth certificate and will have full parental status in the same way as a married father.
  • A child can only have two legal parents and so the biological father can have no legal recognition as a parent.
  • When the child is 18 they may be entitled to information about their biological (donor) father.
Same sex couples who are not civil partners:
  • Couples who were not civil partners at the time of conception may still acquire parental responsibility but only where the couple conceive together through a licensed UK fertility clinic and both partners sign a consent form electing the non biological mother to be treated as a parent. This form is only effective if signed before the conception takes place. and Is subsequently then named on the birth certificate.
  • Alternatively a Parental Responsibility Agreement can be entered into or in the absence of any agreement a non biological parent can make an application to court for a Parental Responsibility Order, as above.

Can other people other than parents acquire Parental Responsibility?

There are several ways in which a person who is not the child’s parent may obtain Parental Responsibility for a child:
  • By being appointed a Guardian to care for the child if those with Parental Responsibility for the child have died.
  • By obtaining a Child Arrangement Order from the court that requires a child lives with that person.
  • By becoming a Special Guardian.
  • By adopting the child.
  • By a parent with Parental Responsibility delegating Parental Responsibility, perhaps for the purposes of you taking that child out of the country.
  • If social services have a Care Order in their favour then they will share parental responsibility with the parents.

Grandparents or other carers

If you are caring for the child of a relative or friend on a long term or permanent basis it is advisable to seek legal advice in respect of applying to court to obtain a Child Arrangement Order or a Special Guardianship Order because if either of these orders are granted you will obtain Parental Responsibility. Legal aid may still be available to you in certain circumstances.

When does Parental Responsibility Terminate?

Any one of the following will terminate parental responsibility:
  • Upon the child reaching the age of 18.
  • If the child is adopted.
  • Where Parental Responsibility is obtained by virtue of a Residence Order or a Child Arrangement Order and that order has expired or been discharged.
  • Rarely, upon a successful application to terminate a persons Parental Responsibility.

If you would like an informal chat about acquiring parental responsibility or in relation to the exercise of parental responsibility please call 03300 245750 or by email at


A&N helped me when no one else would. I was turned away by lots of other solicitors who told me I had no hope, but thanks to Sam I have my baby with me. I will recommend A&N to anyone going through the same thing.

Amy, Doncaster

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A&N Family Law firm are remarkable, they respond very quickly and efficiently by phone or e-mail to all queries, this is quite an unusual response for Solicitors nowadays. All of the staff have an optimistic attitude to life and are warm friendly and welcoming. The staff are handpicked for their ability to engage with the complex needs presented by their clients in a confident, professional and conscientious manner. In particular A&N Family Law Solicitors are very interested in sharing best practice, they provide training to outside agencies and partner professionals conscious of the fact that all knowledge shared benefits staff and clients from all other areas of work. We have been particularly impressed with the quality of training provided and would highly recommend them. As partner professionals we have benefited from the way that they appreciate partnership working, they are prepared to network on behalf us when time has limited our attendance at local functions. We feel proud and honoured to have them 'on site' where our vulnerable women can access legal advice without having to wait for appointments in formal arenas which only serve to increase levels of anxiety and stress that most of our clients are already experiencing.

Positive Mental Health Team