Parental Responsibility

As a mother or father, you’ll know that raising a child is one of the most important and rewarding things you can do in your lifetime. What you may not know is that your parental responsibility extends to all of the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority you legally hold as a parent.

However, not everyone is automatically given parental responsibility when their child is born. That means your rights and responsibilities as a parent may not be legally protected.

If this is the case, you may wish to apply for a parental responsibility order.

What does parental responsibility mean?

If you have parental responsibility for a child, your main role will be to ensure they have a roof over their heads and that they are healthy and safe. You will also be responsible for:

⦁    Naming the child (and agreeing to any change of name),
⦁    Disciplining the child,
⦁    Choosing and providing for the child’s education,
⦁    Agreeing to any medical treatment, and
⦁    Looking after the child’s property.

If you have parental responsibility for a child that does not live with you, this does not necessarily give you the right to contact them. However, in any case, the other parent must still keep you updated on the child’s wellbeing and progress unless there is a legally justifiable reason why they do not have to do so.

Whether you legally have parental responsibility or not, you have a duty to make sure your child is supported financially until they reach eighteen years of age.

Legal parental responsibility essentially gives you the power to make important decisions in relation to the child. It also means that any other parents must ask your consent before they are able to make certain decisions themselves. This can include, but is not limited to:

⦁    Where the child goes to school,
⦁    Appointing a guardian in the event of the death of a parent,
⦁    Accessing the child’s medical record.
⦁    Consenting to someone taking the child abroad, both for holidays and extended stays,
⦁    Representing the child in any legal proceedings, and
⦁    Determining which religion (or religions if this differs between all of those with responsibility) the child should be brought up in.

Who has parental responsibility?

If both parents are married when their child is born, or if they have jointly adopted a child, they will both have parental responsibility. Even if they later divorce, they will both keep parental responsibility respectively.

The birth mother has parental responsibility automatically from the moment the child is born, however the father will usually have to apply for parental responsibility if they are not married to the mother at the time of the birth or are not named on the child’s birth certificate.

An unmarried father can get parental responsibility for his child by either entering a parental responsibility agreement with the mother if she agrees or, if this is not possible, getting a parental responsibility order from the court.

They may also obtain parental responsibility if they are named as the resident parent under a child arrangements order, or if they become the child’s guardian on the mother’s death.

For same sex partners that have conceived a child through fertility treatment or donor insemination, similar rules apply. If they were civil partners at the time of the treatment, both will automatically have parental responsibility. If not, the second parent can apply for parental responsibility using the same methods as an unmarried father.

A child’s step-parent can also get parental responsibility either with a parental responsibility with both of the child’s parents or with a court order.

If you do not automatically have parental responsibility, you can apply for it through a family court.

Parental responsibility orders

A parental responsibility order is issued by the courts to grant a person parental responsibility for a child.

You’ll first need to attend mediation with the mother before the application can be made to the court. If this is unsuccessful, it will then be up to the court to decide whether you should have parental responsibility.

The mother may choose to oppose the order and she will need to give reasons for this. The court will then make their decision and, if they agree with you, you’ll be given equal parental responsibility with the mother.


If you are not sure if you hold parental responsibility for a child or need professional support and guidance in making your application for parental responsibility, call 03330096275 to speak to one of the UK’s leading family law solicitors, Ashmans Solicitors.

You can also email us on, or simply fill in the enquiry form below, and our team will get back to you as quickly as possible.


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