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Family Law, Divorce, Separation

Parental responsibility

The number of children being brought up in single-parent, unmarried or same-sex families has doubled over the last twenty years. For many, the question of who has parental responsibility and what that means may still be an unresolved issue.

  • What does parental responsibility include?

      Parental responsibility gives parents the right to be involved in and make important decisions about their children. This includes decisions about where the child lives, what school they should go to, giving permission for medical treatment and what religion the child should follow.

      Mothers automatically have parental responsibility as does a father if he is married to the mother when the child is born. Parental responsibility is not lost if they get divorced.

  • Unmarried fathers

      Unmarried fathers do not automatically have parental responsibility, but they can get it by:

      • marrying the mother;
      • registering or re-registering their name on the birth with the mother’s consent, for children born after 1st December 2003;
      • a parental responsibility agreement;
      • a parental responsibility order from the court;
      • a residence order from the court; or
      • appointment as the legal guardian of the child on the death of the mother.
  • Other considerations

      Other people who are responsible for and care for the child on a day to day basis, such as step parents and same-sex partners who are joined by civil partnership do not automatically have parental responsibility, but can obtain it.

      Everyday decisions like permission for school trips can usually be given by one parental responsibility holder alone. For major decisions, such as serious medical treatment, changing the child’s name, taking the child abroad or choosing a school, both parents should agree.

      If the parents cannot agree and one parent has strong objections, then it is possible to apply to the court for an order to stop or prevent the action.