Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility is defined in law: “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 means you have the responsibility to look after and maintain the child, and make decisions about the child’s education, medical treatment, discipline etc.

This means that the parent or carer is responsible for ensuring that the child is cared for and protected up until the age of 18. Parental responsibility comes with a duty of care. You must provide for the child and make decisions about the child’s care and upbringing. Examples of parental responsibility include:

  • A duty to protect the child from neglect, discrimination and any form of abuse;
  • Consenting and providing the child with adequate medical treatment and medical care;
  • Provide education and guidance;
  • Choosing and registering the child’s name;
  • Consenting to taking the child abroad;
  • If the child will follow a religion.

Who Has Parental Responsibility?

A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth. father usually has parental responsibility if he is:

  1. married to the child’s mother;
  2. listed on the birth certificate (after a certain date, depending on which part of the UK the child was born in)
    If the birth is registered in Northern Ireland, a father has parental responsibility if he’s married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth.

If a father marries the mother after the child’s birth, he has parental responsibility if he lives in Northern Ireland at the time of the marriage. An unmarried father has parental responsibility if he is named, or becomes named, on the child’s birth certificate (from 15 April 2002).

How We Can Help

Disputes often arise in relation to parental responsibility and the rights of each party, particularly in the event of a separation. Parental responsibility automatically lies with the birth mother when a child is born. If the mother and father are married when the child is born the father also has the responsibility. A father who is not married to the mother but is registered on the child’s birth certificate will automatically have parental responsibility.

Issues of parental responsibility often become contentious when the parent’s of a child decide to separate. It is always desirable that parent’s come to an agreement on parental responsibility upon separation. However, in reality differences often arise in relation to parental responsibility. In those circumstances solicitors for each party can mediate and try to reach an amicable agreement between parents.

The legal process differs from case to case but will adopt the following general approach:

1. If an issue arises in respect of parental responsibility, then you can arrange to meet with one of our family law solicitors. Your solicitor will take your instructions on the issue and advise you of any potential remedies that you could use to resolve your problem. A common issue, for example, will be a father seeking to be named on a child’s birth certificate and have parental responsibility.

2. In these circumstances our solicitors will advise firstly trying to resolve the issue by way of mediation. Your solicitor may enter into negotiations with the other party’s solicitor in order to try and obtain consent for your name to be voluntarily registered on the child’s birth certificate, thereby giving you a degree of parental responsibility.

3. If the other party is unwilling to negotiate on this your solicitor will advise you that the next step is to make an application to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order. Your solicitor will make the application for you and a Family Court Judge will then decide whether to allow or reject the Order. This decision will be based on a variety of factors including the father’s bond with the child and his reasons for making an Application. The decision will ultimately be dictated by what is in the best interests of the child.

Case Study

Some of the legal jargon can be a little confusing for our clients. At PA Duffy and Company, we aim to help our clients to understand the legal process and will help to protect their best interests and that of their child or children. In order to help you understand how the process works in practice we have devised a hypothetical scenario which outlines how a parental responsibility dispute can generally unfold:

John and Rebecca had a baby in 2017 after a short period as an unmarried couple. Prior to the baby being born Rebecca ended the relationship and instructed John that she did not want him to be involved with the unborn child. When the baby was born Rebecca’s, name was the only one registered on the birth certificate. John was upset and was keen to be involved in his child’s life from an early stage.

John met with a family law solicitor from PA Duffy and Company. After taking John’s instructions his solicitor made attempts to enter into negotiations with Rebecca’s solicitor about the possibility of entering into a parental responsibility agreement. Rebecca’s solicitor wrote to John setting out her position that she did not want him to be involved and was unwilling to sign any agreement which would give him parental responsibility.

John’s solicitor advised him that if the mother of the child was unwilling to engage in meaningful discussions, the only other option was to apply to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order. John agreed and instructed his solicitor to proceed with the application. The matter was heard in Court and the Judge decided that it would be in the best interests of the child for John to have a degree of parental responsibility. While Rebecca would retain primary parental responsibility, the Judge saw no reason to exclude John from parental responsibility and stated that both parties should aim to work together more effectively and to ensure the best interests of their child are protected.

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