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Who has parental responsibility?

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All birth mothers automatically have parental responsibility, as do fathers who are married to the mother at the time a child was born. The rules regarding parental responsibility do alter for children whose parents are not married; Stephanie Preston, Paralegal in our Southampton based Family Law team, explains more about parental responsibility in these situations and what this means for the input you have in your child’s life. 

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is the legal rights, duties, powers and responsibilities a parent has for a child. Someone who has parental responsibility has the ability to make decisions about their child’s care and upbringing.

Important decisions about a child’s life and upbringing must be agreed by everyone who has parental responsibility, which would include important decisions such as:

  • Where a child lives
  • Whether they receive medical treatment
  • Where and how they are educated
  • Whether they follow a particular religion
  • Consent to leave the country either for a holiday or permanently.

Who has parental responsibility if the parents are not married?

Fathers who are not married to the mother but are registered on the child’s birth certificate (if the child is born after the 1 December 2003) will automatically have parental responsibility. Civil partners and partners of mothers registered as the child’s legal parent on the birth certificate will also have automatic parental responsibility.

A father who was not married to the mother when the child’s birth was registered prior to the 3rd December 2003 will not automatically have parental responsibility. In this situation, the biological father can obtain parental responsibility a number of ways:

  • Re-registering the child’s birth and adding his name if it is not on the birth certificate already
  • They can make a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother.  
  • If the mother does not agree to a Parental Responsibility Agreement, they can apply to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order.

Not everyone who has parental responsibility has the right to a say in the day to day parenting of a child. Day to day decisions are made by the person who is looking after the child at the time.

“If you are divorced or separated from the other parent of your child, it is important that you try to agree on the day to day parenting so that your child doesn’t struggle with differing levels of discipline or routines when they are with each parent,” Stephanie explains.  “We appreciate that not all separations will be amicable and that making these agreements may be a struggle for you. Family Mediation is an effective way of reaching agreements in a neutral environment, allowing you to explain your position with an independent person present, and potentially avoiding costly Court procedures.”

To find out more about how Family Mediation could help you, or to have your questions answered regarding obtaining a Parental Responsibility Agreement or Parental Responsibility Order, contact Stephanie and the Family team today on 023 8071 7431 or email  


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.