Parental responsibility means all of the legal rights, powers, duties, responsibilities and authority a parent has in relation to a child and that child’s property. A person with parental responsibility makes decisions relating to the child’s upbringing; from education and welfare to religion and medical treatment.
Having parental responsibility for a child does not necessarily mean that person has a legal financial obligation to provide for the child from their own resources. For example, a guardian may have parental responsibility but not financial responsibility for a child, while a father who does not live with the child may not have parental responsibility but does have financial responsibility.
If a child’s parents are married when the child is born, both parents automatically have parental responsibility for the child. But the situation is different for other family situations.
If a child’s parents are not married when the child is born, only the child’s mother automatically has parental responsibility, but the father can acquire parental responsibility if he:
A child may have two female parents if they are born by fertility treatment given on or after 6 April 2009. In this case, the woman who carried the child is treated as the mother and acquires parental responsibility automatically. The second woman is treated in the same way as a father. She will automatically have parental responsibility for the child if she was the mother’s spouse or civil partner at the time of the fertility treatment. If she was not, she can acquire parental responsibility in the same way as any unmarried father (detailed above).
If a child is adopted by two male parents, they will both acquire parental responsibility for the child. In the same way, if a child’s father (who already has parental responsibility for the child) enters into a same-sex relationship with a man who then adopts the child, he will acquire parental responsibility for the child.
A step-parent does not automatically have parental responsibility for a child. But they can acquire parental responsibility if they are the spouse or civil partner of a parent of the child who has parental responsibility. In addition, the step-parent will need either:
There can be more than two people with parental responsibility for a child. It is possible – and fairly common – that if the child’s natural parents have split up and one or both have formed new relationships, then their new partners can be granted parental responsibility as well.
Parental responsibility is sometimes held by guardians; up to four guardians can be appointed for a child. See our page Appointing a guardian in a will for more information.
The granting of parental responsibility to one person does not automatically deprive anyone else of parental responsibility.
There are two ways in which parental responsibility for a child can end – automatically or by court order.
Parental responsibility ends automatically when any one of the following occurs:
Parental responsibility can also be ended by court order.
You can access the court service standard form for a parental responsibility agreement on the government website.
You can access the court service form for a step-parent parental responsibility agreement on the government website.