Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility
Parental Responsibility
Full Overview Of Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility is a pivotal concept within family law, encompassing the legal rights, duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority a parent has for a child and their property. It is essential for ensuring the child’s welfare and proper development, with parents being their primary caretakers and decision-makers. This overview provides a comprehensive understanding of parental responsibility, covering its legal framework, acquisition, implications, and relevant considerations.

Parental responsibility in England and Wales is primarily governed by the Children Act 1989. Under Section 3 of this Act, parental responsibility is defined 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.”

Parental responsibility encompasses various aspects, including:

  • Providing a home for the child
  • Protecting and maintaining the child
  • Disciplining the child
  • Choosing and providing for the child’s education
  • Agreeing to the child’s medical treatment
  • Naming the child and agreeing to any change of name
  • Accompanying the child outside the UK and agreeing to the child’s emigration, should it arise
  • Looking after the child’s property

Acquisition of Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility is automatically granted to certain individuals and can be acquired by others through specific means.

Automatically Granted

  • Biological Mothers: The biological mother of a child automatically acquires parental responsibility at birth.
  • Married Fathers: If the father is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, he automatically gains parental responsibility.
  • Adoptive Parents: Upon adoption, adoptive parents are granted parental responsibility.

Acquisition by Unmarried Fathers

For unmarried fathers, acquiring parental responsibility can be achieved through the following methods:

  • Registration on Birth Certificate: Since 1, 2003, an unmarried father who is named on the child’s birth certificate automatically acquires parental responsibility.
  • Parental Responsibility Agreement: An unmarried father can enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother. This legal document must be signed and witnessed.
  • Parental Responsibility Order: If an agreement cannot be reached, an unmarried father can apply to the court for a parental responsibility order.
  • Subsequent Marriage: If the father later marries the child’s mother, he will automatically gain parental responsibility.

Step-Parents and Civil Partners

Step-parents and civil partners do not automatically acquire parental responsibility but can obtain it through:

  • Parental Responsibility Agreement: With the consent of all those who already have parental responsibility.
  • Parental Responsibility Order: By applying to the court.

Implications of Parental Responsibility

Holding parental responsibility involves significant implications, reflecting the profound role parents play in their child’s life. Here are some key aspects:


Parents with parental responsibility have the right to make crucial decisions regarding their child’s upbringing and welfare. These decisions include educational choices, medical treatments, religious upbringing, and changes to the child’s living arrangements.

Legal Duties

With parental responsibility comes the duty to provide for the child’s needs. This encompasses ensuring the child receives proper education, healthcare, and emotional support. Parents must also safeguard their child from harm and neglect.

Financial Responsibilities

Parents with parental responsibility are generally expected to contribute financially to the child’s upbringing, regardless of their living arrangements with the child.

Consent Requirements

Parental responsibility is vital when giving consent for various activities and decisions involving the child. For instance, both parents with parental responsibility must agree to the child leaving the country or undergoing significant medical procedures.

Parental Responsibility in Different Family Situations

Parental responsibility can become complex in various family scenarios, particularly during relationship breakdowns or disputes over child arrangements.

Separation and Divorce

When parents separate or divorce, both retain their parental responsibility. The primary concern becomes the child’s welfare and ensuring both parents can contribute to decision-making. Disputes may arise over living arrangements, schooling, and contact with the non-resident parent. In such cases, mediation or court intervention may be necessary to reach an agreement.

Unmarried Parents

The acquisition and exercise of parental responsibility can be more complicated for unmarried parents. Both parents must understand their rights and responsibilities, ensuring the child’s welfare remains the focus.

Step-Parents and Extended Family

Blended families can further complicate the issue of parental responsibility. Step-parents and extended family members, such as grandparents, may seek parental responsibility to play a more active role in the child’s life. This requires clear legal agreements or court orders.

Resolving Disputes

Disputes over parental responsibility and related matters can be distressing and complex. To resolve conflicts amicably, it is often beneficial to seek legal advice or mediation services.


Mediation is a voluntary process in which an impartial mediator assists parents in reaching an agreement regarding parental responsibility and child arrangements. Compared to court proceedings, mediation is less adversarial and often quicker.

Court Proceedings

If mediation fails, court intervention may be necessary. The court prioritises the child’s welfare, considering factors such as the child’s wishes and needs and each parent’s capability to meet those needs. Court orders can include child arrangement orders, specific issue orders, and prohibited steps orders to address specific concerns.

Parental Responsibility and Public Authorities

In certain situations, public authorities may become involved in parental responsibility matters, particularly when there are concerns about the child’s welfare.

Local Authorities

Local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their jurisdiction. This includes investigating concerns of abuse or neglect and taking appropriate action, which may involve child protection plans or initiating care proceedings.

Care Proceedings

If a local authority believes a child is at risk of significant harm, they can apply to the court for a care order. If granted, the local authority gains parental responsibility, allowing them to decide for the child’s welfare. Parents retain their parental responsibility but share it with the local authority.

International Considerations

Parental responsibility can extend beyond national borders, especially in cases involving international families or cross-border disputes.

International Child Abduction

Parental responsibility plays a crucial role in cases of international child abduction. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction aims to protect children from wrongful removal or retention across international boundaries. It provides a legal framework for the prompt return of abducted children to their habitual residence.


When one parent wishes to relocate with the child to another country, the other parent’s consent with parental responsibility is typically required. Relocation disputes can be complex, often requiring court intervention to determine what is in the child’s best interests.


Parental responsibility is a crucial aspect of family law, ensuring parents take an active and responsible role in their child’s life. It involves a wide range of rights and duties, from making important decisions to providing daily care and support. Understanding the legal framework, methods of acquisition, and implications of parental responsibility is essential for both parents and legal practitioners.

Navigating parental responsibility can be challenging, especially in family breakdowns or disputes. Seeking legal advice, participating in mediation, and prioritising the child’s welfare are crucial steps in resolving conflicts and ensuring the best outcomes for the child.

At DLS Solicitors, we are dedicated to providing expert guidance and support to parents navigating the complexities of parental responsibility. Our experienced team is here to offer legal advice, mediation, and representation in court, ensuring that the child’s best interests remain the top priority in all decisions. Whether you are looking to acquire parental responsibility, resolve disputes, or understand your rights and duties, we are here to help you every step of the way.

Parental Responsibility FAQ'S

Parental responsibility (PR) refers to a parent’s legal rights, duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority for a child and the child’s property. This includes providing a home, protecting and maintaining the child, and making decisions about their education and healthcare.

In the UK, a mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth. A father usually has parental responsibility if he is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth or if he is listed on the birth certificate (for births registered after 1 December 2003 in England and Wales).

An unmarried father can obtain parental responsibility by jointly registering the child’s birth with the mother, getting a parental responsibility agreement with the mother, or obtaining a parental responsibility order from a court.

Yes, parental responsibility can be shared between parents and other individuals who have acquired it through agreements or court orders. This means that more than one person can have legal responsibilities and rights for the child at the same time.

A person with parental responsibility has the right to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, including decisions about education, religion, medical treatment, and where the child lives.

Parental responsibility can only be removed by a court order in exceptional circumstances, usually when it is in the child’s best interest. This is a rare occurrence.

Suppose parents with parental responsibility cannot agree on a decision regarding the child. In that case, they may seek mediation or, as a last resort, apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order or a Prohibited Steps Order to resolve the matter.

Step-parents do not automatically have parental responsibility. However, they can acquire it by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the consent of both biological parents or by applying to the court for a parental responsibility order.

All individuals with parental responsibility must consent to taking a child abroad. If there is a disagreement, the parent wishing to travel can apply to the court for permission. Without consent or a court order, taking the child abroad may be considered abduction.

Parental responsibility remains unchanged if parents separate or divorce. Both parents retain their responsibilities and rights regarding their child. Decisions about the child’s upbringing must still be made jointly or resolved through mediation or court orders, if necessary.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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