Parental responsibility agreement

Our family law solicitors can advise you about parental responsibility, whether you have it, what it means and how a step parent or grandparent can get it.

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is a legal term used to describe the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a parent has towards a child and their property.

English Law, which applies in England and Wales, doesn’t really define what exactly parental responsibility is, but it does include making decisions about a child’s education, going abroad and any medical treatment they may receive.

What does parental responsibility mean?

Parental responsibility includes the right and duty to:

  • care for the child and provide a home
  • determine where the child should live
  • ensure that if the child is of compulsory school age they receive appropriate education
  • consent to medical treatment or obtain appropriate treatment for the child
  • name the child
  • remove the child from the jurisdiction (England & Wales)

Parental responsibility may not seem important if both parents have parental responsibility but only one parent plays an active role in the child’s life. However, there will be certain situations where this will matter. For example, if you want to change your child’s name or apply for a passport for them, you would need the co-operation and consent of everyone with parental responsibility.

However parental responsibility is not linked to a right to see a child and doesn’t mean that you can interfere with the day to day decisions that the resident parent makes

Do I have parental responsibility?

If you are the child’s birth mother, you will automatically have parental responsibility for your child from birth. If you are the child’s other parent, you will automatically have parental responsibility if you are married to or in a civil partnership with the child’s mother.

Fathers also have automatic parental responsibility for their child if they are registered on the child’s birth certificate.

Who has parental responsibility?

Not all parents have parental responsibility and it can be difficult to understand your legal rights if you don’t live with your children. Similarly it can be hard, if you are a parent who has a child living with you, to understand what rights and responsibilities that you and the other parent may have. To clarify:

  • mothers & married fathers automatically have parental responsibility
  • fathers who were never married to the child’s mother may not have parental responsibility, depending on when the child was born and whether their name is on the birth certificate

You can get parental responsibility in a number of ways such as if you adopt a child or the court makes an order in your favour specifying that the child is to live with you. If you are an unmarried father and the mother agrees to you having parental responsibility it can be quick and relatively easy to obtain. If no agreement about who should have parental responsibility can be reached, you might need to obtain a court order.

In some rare circumstances such as when a child is adopted, parental responsibility can end. While the law is clear that if you had parental responsibility before you separated, your responsibilities continue whether a child lives with you or not after the break up. In fact, the law encourages resident and non-resident parents to work together for the best interests of their child.

How we can help you

Our family law solicitors and legal specialists can explain what parental responsibility is, whether you have it, and if not, how you can get it. If everyone that has parental responsibility consents we can help you make and register a parental responsibility agreement.

If this is not possible we can advise you about and/or represent you in court proceedings regarding parental responsibility.

Our parental responsibility agreement service

The parental responsibility agreement service includes: - legal advice on parental responsibility and how to get it - completing your uncontested parental responsibility application - legal advice on having your parental responsibility agreement document witnessed - corresponding with the court and anyone with parental responsibility

Child residence and child contact

If you are having problems deciding who your children should live with, or trying to decide how much time they should spend with the other parent, please see child custody and child arrangement orders.

Grandparent and non-parent legal rights

Grandparents and other relatives can play an important role in a child’s upbringing, having regular contact and often providing child-care. But when parents separate, the arrangements for grandparents and others to see the children can become more complex.

The fact is that the child simply has less time and fewer opportunities to see the people they want to. If you are a grandparent or relative who is in this situation:

  • try not to take sides and always remain impartial
  • speak with both parents and try and agree regular arrangements which suit them and the children
  • don’t ask the children intrusive questions about their parents which they may feel disloyal about answering

Can I get parental responsibility as a step father?

It is possible for a step father to get parenal responsibility for their step child.

Step-parents cannot get parental responsibility for a child simply by marrying the child's biological parent, but they can gain parental responsibility for a step child through a parental responsibility agreement.

Parental responsibility for step-parents

While many step-parents will naturally develop a deep bond with their step-child and play a significant role in their upbringing, they will not automatically have parental responsibility for them. This means that legally they have no say in day-to-day decisions and may not even have authority to sign consent forms for school.

Once a step parent has parental responsibility, they will have the same duties and responsibilities as a biological parent.

How to get a parental responsibility agreement as a step-parent

There are two criteria for a parental responsibility agreement. Firstly, you must be married to the biological parent that the child lives with.

Secondly you must have the signed consent of every other person with parental responsibility for the child. This means that if the other parent of the child is living and has parental responsibility, they must agree to you having parental responsibility and must co-operate with the agreement being approved by the court.

A number of supporting documents will need to be provided:

  • your marriage certificate showing you are married to the child's parent
  • the child's birth certificate
  • proof of the other parent's parental responsibility
  • photo ID of the step-parent and all those with parental responsibility

Getting the court involved

The court should only be involved as a last step if you can’t agree arrangements. Before beginning a court application you should consider family mediation to help resolve any differences.

For contested parental responsibility agreements, our hourly fees start from £210 per hour (including VAT). If an agreement is contested, this means that the person who already has parental responsibility (usually the mother) does not agree to the applicant being granted parental responsibility.

For contested matters a court fee of £232 will payable in addition to our fee, and is payable directly to the court. We will agree our fee with you upfront and once we have provided you with a written quote for the agreed work to be done, that price will not change.

If you are prevented from seeing children and believe that this is against their wishes, you can apply to the court to obtain leave or permission to bring an application for a child arrangement order.

As with any process involving children, a court looks at what is in their best interests, giving the child’s welfare paramount consideration. Amongst other things, the court looks at the children’s own wishes and feelings and whether contact could potentially cause any harm.

If grandparents or step parents can’t see the children

You could consider:

  • sending them regular messages or small presents
  • trying to agree a regular time to speak to the children on the phone
  • if the children are older, emailing them

Always make sure that the parents are aware of what you are doing and don’t try and hide it from them. Don’t make children keep secrets or contact people against their wishes as this could be seen as harassment.

Other court applications non-parents can make

In certain cases, non-parents can also apply for court orders relating to where the children should live or orders dealing with specific issues relating to a child in their care. However, they will also need the court’s permission for these.

You can also ask for a court order for the child to live with you if believe it would be in their best interests but the parents don’t agree. Find out more about the different types of court orders available.

Parental responsibility for children’s education

Anyone with parental responsibility has a right to make decisions on the child’s education, such as where they go to school. Any decisions will need to be discussed and agreed with anyone else who has parental responsibility.

If you do not have parental responsibility, you may still be able to be part of the decision concerning the child’s education. In some circumstances it is possible for someone who doesn’t have parental responsibility to have a say regarding a child’s education, but ultimately it will be up to the person with parental responsibility.

Thank you again for my children and my freedom. (Mrs. W., Bristol)

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Parental responsibility questions answered

Q) I’m a dad without parental responsibility but I have a good relationship with my ex-partner and we’ve agreed contact to see the children. Do I need to get parental responsibility?

A) There are still reasons to consider getting parental responsibility to ensure you can meet your daughter's needs while caring for her. Without parental responsibility you are likely to have problems if you need to talk to her school or family doctor or be unable to give consent if she needed emergency medical treatment.

Q) What are my parental rights?

A) The current law in England and Wales encourages parents to think about having parental responsibility for children rather than parental rights over them. The definition of parental responsibility in the Children Act 1989 is very broad but in practical terms means that, even if a child does not live with you, you have the right to be involved in important decisions in the child's life. These include what school the child attends, whether they should be allowed to go abroad and whether they should receive medical treatment.

Q) My ex-husband has parental responsibility for our son and wants me to update him several times each day about what our son is doing, what he has eaten, and other details. Do I have to agree?

A) No, as having parental responsibility doesn’t mean your ex-husband can interfere with your day-to-day care of your son. Yet while you don’t have to consult your ex-husband about day-to-day matters, you should keep him informed about issues that affect your son’s welfare, you should remember that he does have the right to share in important decisions that have to be made.

Q) My ex-partner has parental responsibility for our children, who live with me. Can I take them on holiday abroad without him knowing?

A) No, to do this you need the consent of everyone with parental responsibility or a court order to take children abroad for any length of time (unless you have a child arrangements order for them). Without these, taking the children abroad would be a criminal offence.

Q) I'm a dad without parental responsibility, can I get parental responsibility?

A) Yes, there are lots of ways of doing so, including by a registered agreement, by a court order and even by marrying the child's mother. How you go about getting parental responsibility will depend on your relationship with the child's mother, and whether the child's mother consents to you having parental responsibility.

Q) My ex-girlfriend is pregnant but we’ve split up, will I automatically have parental responsibility?

A) As an unmarried dad you will only have parental responsibility if your name is on the child's birth certificate. You could also obtain it later on in other ways such as by agreement or court order.

Q) I’m in a same sex civil partnership and my female partner is having our child through assisted reproduction. Will I automatically have parental responsibility?

A) Yes, because you are in a civil partnership. You could also have parental responsibility even if you were not in a civil partnership, as long as you were registered as a parent on the child’s birth certificate.

About Co-op Legal Services

The family law team at Co-op Legal Services includes specialist family solicitors, divorce solicitors and children law solicitors with Resolution accreditation and accredited experts in child abduction, co-habitation, domestic abuse, property disputes, high net worth money matters and financial advocacy.

Resolution is a national organisation of family lawyers committed to non-confrontational divorce, separation and other family problems.

As part of the Co-op Group, our values of openness, honesty, social responsibility and caring for others are core to the service we provide.