Parental Responsibility encompasses the rights held by parents and other individuals, including Special Guardians or those with Residence Orders, in relation to the child’s upbringing. These include crucial decisions such as selecting schools, overseeing religious education and providing consent for medical treatment. These rights persist until the child reaches the age of 18.
In most circumstances, individuals make these important decisions collectively. However, if negotiations or mediation fail to reach a consensus, any party can seek a Court-issued Specific Issue Order.
Who possesses Parental Responsibility for a child?
Mothers and married fathers automatically have Parental Responsibility.
Unmarried fathers of children born after 1st December 2003 also automatically share these rights if named on the birth certificate. If not, they can obtain it through a Parental Responsibility agreement with the mother or a court order. Courts typically grant these orders when fathers demonstrate commitment to the child’s best interests, maintain a connection, and promote the child’s welfare.
What rights do step-parents have?
Step-parents can gain Parental Responsibility through an agreement with all other existing holders.
Alternatively, they may seek a Parental Responsibility Order, which is granted when it serves the child’s best interests and the step-parent’s involvement is deemed necessary. For instance, if a biological parent consistently fulfils their responsibilities, the step-parent may not need to share them. A step-parent is more likely to gain Parental Responsibility when the biological parent frequently works away from home.
There may be instances where a step-parent can seek an order confirming the child’s residence or significant time spent together. In such cases, they can request a Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship Order. If granted, the step-parent shares Parental Responsibility with the parents while the order is in effect. An order is only granted when essential for the child’s welfare, often when a parent is frequently unavailable to fulfil their responsibilities.
Unfortunately, situations may arise where a parent dies or becomes incapable of caring for the child. In such cases, a step-parent can seek an order allowing the child to reside with them to minimise disruption.
Can individuals other than parents or step-parents hold parental responsibility?
Holders of Special Guardianship Orders, Residence Orders, and Adoption Orders confer Parental Responsibility while these orders are in effect.
From 22nd April 2014, Residence and Contact Orders were replaced by Child Arrangements Orders. These orders dictate where and with whom a child lives and spends time.
Parental Responsibility is automatically granted under a Child Arrangements Order to the individual named as the child’s primary residence unless they already hold it. Therefore, in such cases, Parental Responsibility may automatically extend to an unmarried father, step-parent, other family member, guardian or a second female parent.
In specific situations, the Court can grant Parental Responsibility to an individual who spends time with the child under a Child Arrangements Order, as opposed to living with them. The Court must assess appropriateness in light of the Order’s specific provisions. If deemed suitable, the Court will grant Parental Responsibility. This mainly applies to unmarried fathers or second female parents.
There is also a provision enabling the Court to confer Parental Responsibility on a person who is not the child’s parent or guardian when a Child Arrangements Order specifies the child will spend time with or have contact with that person, although this power is anticipated to be rarely exercised.