Parental responsibility is defined in section 3(1) of the Children Act 1989 as:

‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’.

This means a person who has Parental Responsibility has the legal powers to make appropriate decisions in relation to the care, welfare and upbringing of the child. There are no limits to the number of people who can share Parental Responsibility for one child. S2 (7) of the Children Act 1989 states that where more than one person has Parental Responsibility for a child, each of them may act alone and without the other (or others) in meeting that responsibility. In certain specific cases, consent of all parties sharing Parental Responsibility is required and a Court Order would be needed, if an agreement cannot be reached. The following are examples of important decisions in a child’s life that should have the agreement of everyone with Parental Responsibility:

  • Where a child lives.
  • Whether or not a child has medical treatment.
  • Decisions regarding a child’s education.
  • Which, if any, religion a child follows.
  • Deciding a child’s name and registering their birth.
  • Giving consent for a child to leave the country, whether for a holiday for more than 28 days or permanently.

In England and Wales, Parental Responsibility lasts until the child reaches 18 or until an Adoption Order or other court order is made which extinguishes it.

Who has Parental Responsibly?

A mother automatically has Parental Responsibility for her child from birth. A biological father usually has Parental Responsibility if he is married to or is in a civil partnership with the child’s mother, at the time the child was born. If a biological father is not married to the mother, he can gain parental responsibility by being registered on the baby’s birth certificate following the birth. Both parents keep Parental Responsibility if they later divorce or separate.

Same-sex partners will both have Parental Responsibility if they were civil partners at the time of the treatment; for example, donor insemination or fertility treatment. For same-sex partners who are not civil partners; the second parent can obtain Parental Responsibility by a Parental Responsibility Agreement or by becoming a civil partner of the other parent and making a Parental Responsibility Agreement or jointly registering the birth.

Besides parents others may also acquire Parental Responsibility; for example, a Local Authority by obtaining a Care Order or Emergency Protection Order, a child’s guardian through a Will or Court Order, a child’s step parent by way of an Agreement with the parents or Court Order, grandparents or extended family through a Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship Order. Adoptive parents gain Parental Responsibility upon the Court’s approval of the Adoption Order.

If a child is born overseas and comes to live in the UK, Parental Responsibility depends on the UK country they are now living in. Our expert solicitors can advise you regarding the laws applicable to England and Wales.

Can you lose Parental Responsibility?

A mother will always have Parental Responsibility until the child is 18 unless an Adoption Order is made. A married father is in the same position. However, there are instances where Parental Responsibility could be lost, which include:

  • Any person, including unmarried fathers who acquire Parental Responsibility by a Parental Responsibility Agreement or Court Order, may lose their their Parental Responsibility if the Court makes a subsequent Court Order extinguishing the Parental Responsibility or Adoption Order.
  • A Local Authority will lose Parental Responsibility once their Care Order has ended, unless it has a Placement Order.
  • If Parental Responsibility is acquired through a Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship Order, it lasts until the Orders are discharged by the Court.

How to obtain Parental Responsibility?

An unmarried father can obtain Parental Responsibility through the following:-


  • By entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the child’s mother, which is a formal document signed by both parents in front of specific witnesses. This is then filed with the Principal Registry of the Family Division of the High Court in London.  Such an agreement would confer the rights and duties set out above on the unmarried father.


  • By being named as the father on the child’s birth certificate. From 1st December 2003, an unmarried father may register or re-register his name on the child’s birth certificate to acquire Parental Responsibility.


  • By applying to Court for a Parental Responsibility Order. This may usually be the case where the child’s mother does not agree to a formal Parental Responsibility Agreement.


For advice regarding Parental Responsibility Agreements and Orders, contact our offices to book an appointment with one of our family solicitors for an initial consultation.



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