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Parental responsibility

A recent case has seen the issue of parental responsibility mentioned, the first time since 1995 that a person’s right to have parental responsibility has been ruled upon.

The case saw the judge terminate the parental responsibility of a father who had been sent to jail for the sexual abuse of his own child’s half-sisters. On his release from jail an application went through the courts on behalf of the child, calling for the termination of his father’s parental responsibility (PR). He responded by applying for a specific issue order requiring the mother to give him annual reports as to the child’s progress.

Defining parental responsibility

It is a legal status which means that you have a duty to care for and protect your child. However, it is just one factor that goes into deciding whether or not the father has the right to see his children.

PR confers on the person with it the right to:

  • Contribute to important decisions affecting that child such as where they should live, choosing their name and religion.

However, PR does not give the person the right to:

  • Overrule the wishes of the mother or her ability to make decisions regarding the care of the child when they are with her.

Who has PR?

A woman who gives birth automatically has PR for the child. The father of the child will only automatically have PR if he is married to the child’s mother and is named on the birth certificate.

Ways to acquire PR

  1. Entering into PR agreement with the child’s mother on a form which must be registered.
  2. Obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the court.
  3. Obtaining a Residence Order from the court.

The process if both mother and father agree that he should have parental responsibility is relatively simple, with both parties signing a Parental Responsibility Agreement and then sending it off to court. If the mother does not consent to signing such an agreement, the father can make an application to court and, in coming to a decision, the court will take into account

  • The degree of commitment shown by the father to his child.
  • The degree of attachment between the father and child.
  • The father’s reasons for applying for the order.

Basic principles

The main benefits to be had by acquiring parental responsibility are that the person concerned is conferred with the rights and responsibilities for the upbringing and care provided to the child until they reach the age of majority. As the child gets older and becomes more capable of making decisions for themselves, the parent’s rights to act on their behalf will diminish accordingly.

As the child does get older it would be considered good practice to involve the child in decisions regarding their care and treatment. Once they are capable of giving consent they have the right to be consulted and to make decisions about their care. In England, once a child reaches the age of 18, he is regarded in law as an adult and therefore parental responsibility will no longer apply.