Our family law associates at Hartnell Chanot & Partners discuss the issue of Parental Responsibility
The mother of my child has mentioned parental responsibility. What does it mean?
Many parents use the term “parental responsibility” without knowing what it really means. In fact Parental Responsibility (or ‘PR’) has a strict legal meaning which is:
‘all the rights, duties, powers responsibilities and authority which a parent has in relation to the child and the child’s property’.
Having PR does not mean that your child lives with you, or that you can automatically have contact with your child. Nor does it mean that you become liable to pay towards their upkeep. You are probably liable anyway.
So what does PR mean in practice?
Where the parents live together as a couple the issue of what PR means in practice rarely arises. It usually becomes an issue once a couple has separated.
In practice if you have PR, you in conjunction with anyone else who has PR (usually only the mother) have all legal rights, duties and responsibilities towards the child and are therefore entitled to have access to certain official information and to have a say in most of the major decisions in relation to the child’s welfare and upbringing. The most significant of these are:
1. Where a child lives and when he or she has contact with the other parent.
2. Who can consent to medical treatment.
3. Where a child should go to school.
4. Whether to change a child’s surname.
5. Whether a child should live abroad permanently.
6. Whether a child should be adopted.
7. Anyone with PR has access to medical records and school records.
Where both parents have PR for their child they exercise PR jointly. In this case it is important to try to reach agreement as to significant decisions. If you cannot agree either parent can make a Court application and ultimately the Court may have to make the decision for you.
So what rights do I have without PR?
Those people with PR (usually only the mother) can delegate PR to another person for specific limited purposes and times.
Otherwise if you do not have PR you do not have authority to make decisions about the child. Whoever has PR can make decisions without your input. Without PR any professionals involved, such as teachers and doctors, do not have to give you information about the child.
Do I automatically have PR as the dad?
No. The only person who automatically has PR is the child’s mother.
As the dad you have PR where:
1. You are married to the mother at the time of the birth, or subsequently marry her.
2. The child was born after 1st December 2003 and you are named on the birth certificate as the child’s father.
and you can acquire PR by:
3. Completing an application form and attending the appropriate court office either with the mother or separately and showing specific ID. You then send three copies of the form to a central registry.
4. Obtaining a court order giving you PR.
5. Obtaining a Residence Order.
In some circumstances other relatives can acquire PR but usually only when the child lives with them.
What do I do if the mother will not agree to me having PR?
You could consider using mediation or Collaborative Family Law (see http://www.collaborativefamilylawyers.co.uk or www.resolution.org.uk ) as a means to reach an agreement with the mother.
If no agreement can be reached you may have to consider making a court application. Before making the application it is now compulsory to attend a mediation assessment meeting at which a mediator will explain alternative ways to resolve the issue. Either you or the mother can say if you do not feel alternative dispute resolutions are suitable in which case the application can then be made to Court.
How does the court decide if I should have PR?
The court’s paramount consideration will be what it considers to be in the child’s best interests and it will take into consideration the Welfare Checklist set out in s.1 of the Children Act 1989.
The Court will consider:
1. Whether there is a sufficient level of attachment between you and the child (usually by showing that contact is taking place regularly).
2. Whether there is a sufficient level of commitment by you towards the child.
3. The reason why you are making the application. i.e. the court will check that you are making the application because you want to properly be involved in the child’s life rather than to interfere inappropriately in the mother’s life.
Court proceedings usually take between 6 and 12 months but can be quicker.
How long does PR last?
For a child’s natural parents PR usually comes to an end on the child’s 18th birthday.
Other parents who can acquire PR
So far we have only looked at the position where a child is being brought up by mum alone or by mum and dad. It is possible for partners in same-sex couples and step-parents to acquire PR.
An experienced specialist family lawyer can give you more advice about PR and other family law issues.
These laws apply to England and Wales. dadzclub are looking for legal parters in Scotland, Ireland and the USA. Please get in touch if you would like to be considered for this role.