How does a father get parental responsibility for his child?
Parental responsibility solicitors
For advice about parental responsibility, child custody or contact the specialist children and family law team at OTS Solicitors can help you. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form to set up a video conference, skype or telephone appointment with one of our specialist children lawyers.
What is parental responsibility?
When family law solicitors talk of ‘’parental responsibility’’ they are referring to the legal concept not the natural responsibility most parents feel for their children. It therefore means you can be a responsible parent and not have parental responsibility. Neither you nor your child may realise that you don’t have the legal authority of ‘’parental responsibility’’.
The legal concept of parental responsibility is contained in Section 3(1) of the Children Act 1989. The section includes a definition of parental responsibility and refers to it as:
“The rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.
That legal definition of parental responsibility is pretty meaningless to most parents who want to know what parental responsibility means in practice. Parental responsibility gives a parent (or other person who has acquired parental responsibility as part of a court order) the responsibility for making significant decisions in a child’s life.
What is a significant decision in a child’s life?
It is all very well to talk about the legal definition of parental responsibility in the abstract but here are some examples of the type of significant welfare decisions where having parental responsibility for the child can be important to a parent:
The naming of a baby
The nationality of a child – your child may have the potential for dual nationality or may be able to secure British citizenship if you elect to pursue British citizenship as in the best interests of your child
The religious upbringing of a child – this includes whether a child should be baptised or circumcised or observe religious practices during their childhood
The diet of a child – whether the child should grow up eating a sugar free diet or a vegan or vegetarian diet
The health of a child – whether a child should be immunised or have cochlear implants if hearing impaired or have other types of surgery or treatment or should return to school after Covid-19 lockdown because of worries about an asthmatic condition
The education of a child – whether a child should be home-schooled, attend mainstream state education or specialist schooling or attend a private school.
Who has parental responsibility for a child?
The Children Act 1989 says who automatically has parental responsibility for a child and who can acquire parental responsibility.
A birth mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child. She does not need to do anything to obtain her parental responsibility.
A biological father will automatically have parental responsibility for the child if he is married to the child’s mother. If he isn’t married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth then the father can secure parental responsibility by:
Agreement with the child’s mother – the agreement has to be on a prescribed form and witnessed in accordance with legal requirements
By marriage – marriage after the birth of the child gives a biological father parental responsibility
Registration on the birth certificate – as the child’s natural father. If the father is not included on the birth certificate it can be possible to re-register the birth to include the name of the biological father
By parental responsibility court order – the court can make an order granting parental responsibility.
When will the court make a parental responsibility order?
A father can apply for a parental responsibility order as a separate application or at the same time as applying for custody or contact (referred to as a child arrangements order application).
When deciding whether or not to make a parental responsibility order the family court will look at:
The degree of commitment shown by the father to the child
The degree of attachment between father and child
The father’s reasons for applying for parental responsibility.
Family law solicitors say that the test for parental responsibility is quite low and in most cases the family court will say that it is in the best interests of the child that the father obtains parental responsibility.
Parental responsibility through a child arrangements order
When the family court makes a child arrangements order and orders that a child should live with their father the court will, at the same time, give the father parental responsibility.
If a father secures contact under a child arrangements order then the court can make a parental responsibility order but doesn’t have to do so.
What happens if two people have parental responsibility and can't agree?
There is often a general misconception about parental responsibility with parents thinking that a mother’s parental responsibility is more important than a father’s parental responsibility as the father only acquired parental responsibility through marriage , agreement with the mother , naming on the birth certificate or court order.
If two people have parental responsibility for a child then their parental responsibility is equal. Neither has greater authority or power to make decisions on behalf of the child than the other person with parental responsibility.
If parents really can't agree on what is best for their child then they can ask the court to decide. The court can make a specific issue order to determine what is in the best interests of the child.
You may question whether parents who are in a relationship with one another would ever fall out over how to exercise parental responsibility. Whilst most parental responsibility disputes occur between separated or divorced parents there are cases where two parents in a loving relationship can't reach agreement on what is best for their child, for example, in an international household over British citizenship for a child or a multi-faith household or on decisions over medical treatment where both parents have a very valid point of view.
In every family scenario, it is best to try and reach agreement on whether a father should have parental responsibility by agreement or court order or on disputes over the exercise of parental responsibility.
If you can't reach agreement by talking to your partner or ex-partner then family mediation can help provide a neutral setting to reach an agreement. A family and children law solicitor can help support you through family mediation by advising on your legal options and either drawing up a parental responsibility agreement or representing you in any necessary court proceedings for a parental responsibility order, child arrangements order or specific issue order.
Parental responsibility solicitors
For advice about parental responsibility, child custody or contact or applying for a parental responsibility, child arrangements order or specific issue order, the specialist children and family law team at OTS Solicitors can help you. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form to set up a video conference, skype or telephone appointment with one of our specialist children lawyers.