St Martin's House, 63 West Stockwell St. Colchester, CO1 1HE
Tel: 01206 577676, Fax: 01206 548704

The Chestnuts, 4 Stortford Road, Great Dunmow, Essex, CM6 1DA
Tel: 01371 873277, Fax: 01371 859232

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What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is defined in s.3 (1) of the Children Act 1989 as being;

“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”.

In practical terms parental responsibility (PR), means the power to make important decisions in relation to a child, for example, a duty to ensure that the child is properly educated and a duty to feed and clothe and properly care for that child. Parental responsibility also gives the holder a right to consent to medical treatment of the child.

When an important decision has to be made about a child, all those with parental responsibility will be able to have a say in that decision if it concerns the upbringing of the child such as moving that child abroad or changing the child’s name. Day to day decisions should be taken by the person with whom the child lives without interference from other parental responsibility holders.

Fundamentally the law views the rights of the child as paramount, therefore the term parental responsibility attempts to focus on the parent’s duties towards their child rather than the parent’s rights over their child.

Who has parental responsibility?

Where a child’s father and mother were married to each other at the time of birth, they both have parental responsibility for the child.

Where a child’s father and mother were not married to each other at the time of birth:

  1. The mother automatically has parental responsibility for the child
  2. The father does not automatically have parental responsibility for the child unless, for births registered after 1st December 2003, the father registers the birth jointly with the mother and his name is registered on the child’s birth certificate, as the child’s father.

How can an unmarried father obtain parental responsibility?

There are six ways by which an unmarried father may obtain parental responsibility:-

  1. For children born after 1st December 2003, by becoming registered as the child’s father on the child’s birth certificate (the unmarried father will not be able to register his name without the consent of the child’s mother). Both the mother and father must be physically present at the registry office to sign the birth register.
  2. By subsequently marrying the child’s mother.
  3. By entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement (in the required form, which is then recorded by the Court) with the child’s mother.
  4. If the child’s mother does not agree to the father acquiring parental responsibility, the father may apply to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order. He is entitled to ask the Court to recognise his position as the father of the child and a Parental Responsibility Order confers on the committed father, the status of parenthood for which nature has already stated he must bear responsibility. In any matter concerning a child, the Court’s paramount consideration is the welfare of the child.

The Court will consider:

  1. The degree of commitment the father has shown towards the child
  2. The degree of attachment between him and the child
  3. The reasons why he is applying for the Order
  4. The loss of self-esteem for the child who has a father without parental responsibility
  5. Any other relevant circumstances
  6. Where the Court makes a Residence Order in favour of an unmarried father (i.e. an order stating that the child should live with the father), it must also make a Parental Responsibility Order in favour of the father, if he has not already obtained parental responsibility via an agreement with the mother or an Order of the Court.
  7. If the father is appointed guardian either by the Court or by the mother, after the mother’s death.

Parental responsibility for a step-parent

Where a parent (“parent A”) has parental responsibility and is married to a person who is not the child’s other parent (the step-parent):

Regardless of whether a person does or does not have parental responsibility for a child, that person must continue to meet any obligation which he may have in relation to the child, for example, duty to maintain the child. A person who does not have parental responsibility for a particular child but who has care of the child, may do what is reasonable for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare.

Parental Responsibility Agreements

A Parental Responsibility Agreement can be made between the mother and the unmarried father to allow him to have joint parental responsibility. Such an agreement is suitable when both parents agree to the unmarried father having parental responsibility. The parents cannot simply make this agreement amongst themselves, the agreement must be signed and witnessed by a Justice’s clerk or a Court officer and the agreement must be filed at the Principal Registry of the Family Division to make it legally binding.

When does a Parental Responsibility Agreement/Order come to an end?

This will occur only by an Order of the Court made on the application:

  1. Of any person who has parental responsibility for the child, or;
  2. Of the child himself (with leave of the Court, provided the child has sufficient understanding)

Please contact us by telephone on 01206 577676 or email at for further details.