Surprisingly, this seems to be one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts of Child related law. The Children Act 1989 deliberately changed the terminology, moving away from parental “rights” to “responsibility”. If you hold Parental Responsibility for a child you are recognised as holding all of the legal powers to make appropriate decisions about the upbringing of that child.
However, this of itself may not be that straight forward.
There is no statutory list of what comprises “parental responsibilities”. It includes, for example:-
- Duty to maintain a child, irrespective of where the child lives, or with whom.
- Education. You have the right to decide how your child is educated (within reason)
- Religious upbringing, but can be a major issue when parents do not share the same faith, especially if they subsequently separate.
- Medical Treatment.
- Choice of name.
- Consent to a child being adopted.
Parental Responsibililty is acquired in various ways, and may be held by several people at any one time.
Where the parents are married, either at the time of birth, or subsequently, then both parents hold P.R.
Where they are not married, only the mother automatically acquires it. The unmarried father can acquire it if he is named on the birth certificate (after 1st December 2003).
It can be obtained by entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement.
It can be obtained by the Court making a Parental Responsibility Order, or a Residence Order in your favour
In cases where a child is placed into the Care of a Local Authority, the Local Authority will share P.R with the parents.
Parental Responsibility is removed if a child is Adopted.
A father who applies to the Court for Parental Responsibility will normally get it, unless he has done something outrageously wrong. Each case turns on it’s own facts however.
Difficulties can arise when the holders of P.R. disagree about something relating to the child’s upbringing. So what does Shared Parental Responsibility mean in practice ?
An individual with P.R. can make decisions about the child on their own, if needs be. There are, however, some things that can only be done with the agreement of all those that hold parental responsibility. You may not change a child's name without agreement or Court Order. You cannot consent to a child’s marriage without agreement of all those with P.R. You cannot remove a child from the country although if you hold a residence order you may do so for up to 4 weeks without specific agreement of others with P.R.
Also, a non parent with P.R. cannot consent to a child being adopted.
In the event of a dispute over the child’s upbringing, the Court can be asked to make an order stating what should happen, and all holders of P.R. have to abide by that decision. So arguments over education, religious upbringing, circumcision, etc. are regularly determined by the Court, and just because you hold P.R. you do not have the right to ignore what the Court says.
If you hold P.R. it is best to consult the other holders (usually the other parent), or at least inform them of your intentions. Consultation is always the best way to proceed. The Court will expect you to try to resolve your differences, if possible, before you go rushing off to obtain Court Orders. Accordingly you will be expected to attempt mediation or attempt to resolve matters by instructing Collaborative Practitioners to assist in collaborative meetings between yourself and the person with whom the dispute has arisen(known as collaborative practice or collaborative law)
In practice, the Courts will usually give very serious consideration to the wishes of the parent who has the day to day care of the child. The child’s welfare is the Courts paramount concern.