Parental responsibility and the modern family

Josie Hayes web

By Josephine Hayes

Parental responsibility (PR) is all of the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a person, most usually a parent, has in relation to the child and his property.

Historically issues of parental responsibility were relatively simple. A child’s natural mother has automatic PR and the natural father can acquire PR if he is married to the mother, or, post 2003, if he is named on the child’s birth certificate. However, with the evolution of the concept of ‘family’ this approach is no longer sufficient. Often the people looking after a child are not the natural birth parents. It is not unusual for same sex partners, step parents, grandparents or other family members to bring up a child who is not their own. It is important that those who have the actual responsibility of caring for a child are fully aware of what rights they have and how they can acquire them.
Case Studies:

  1. Unmarried fathers
    Kate and Will are not married but have a 2 year old son Arthur. Kate and Will separated before Arthur was born and Kate registered Arthur’s birth and recorded the father as unknown. Arthur lives with Will and only sees Kate occasionally. Although Will is the natural father, only Kate has PR for Arthur.
    Will could obtain PR through entering into a PR agreement with Kate but Kate has refused to agree.
    To obtain PR Will would have to make an application to court for a PR order. Alternatively, he could apply for a Child Arrangements Order determining that Arthur should live with him and this would also give him PR for Arthur.
  2. Two female parents
    Mia is 5 years old. She has two female parents, Sandra and Jane. Sandra had IVF to enable her to conceive using Jane’s eggs and a sperm donor.
    Sandra has automatic PR for Mia as the person who carried the child is treated as the mother under English law.
    Jane is treated in a similar way to how a father would be treated. If she is married to Sandra, she has automatic PR. If unmarried, she can obtain PR through entering into a PR agreement with Sandra, obtaining a court order or Child Arrangements Order or by being entered onto the birth certificate.
  3. Step parents
    Sonia and Barry have a 3 year old daughter Ezme. Sonia and Barry get divorced and Ezme continues to live with Sonia. Sonia has some contact with Barry but then Barry gets a job in Scotland and moves away. When Ezme is 7 Sonia marries her new partner Murat and they have 2 more children. Murat has responsibility for the younger children as he is married to Sonia but he wishes to obtain PR for Ezme. Sonia approaches Barry in the hope that they can enter into a PR agreement but Barry will not agree. As Barry has PR both he and Sonia would have to agree. Murat could apply to court but decides not to.
    When Ezme is 12 Barry dies. Sonia can now enter into a PR agreement with Murat. Alternatively, Murat could adopt Ezme which would also give him PR.
  4. Grandparents
    Jack is 4 and lives with his grandparents Betty and Steve. His mother, Karly, became pregnant at 15 and was unable to care for him, and his father’s identity is unknown. Jack has lived with his grandparents since birth but there is no court order in place. Karly is the only person with PR for Jack but she doesn’t see him and Betty and Steve are trying to enrol Jack in school and need to formalise arrangements for him.
    Betty and Steve can apply to court for a Child Arrangements Order which would give them PR for Jack. Alternatively, they may wish to adopt him and become his legal parents.

If you have any queries or concerns about parental responsibility, or any issue concerning children, Barker Gotelee can offer a free and confidential initial consultation.

Josephine Hayes is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.

Suffolk Family Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email