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What Is Parental Responsibility? Parental Responsibility Explained

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What is parental responsibility?

This guide explains what parental responsibility is, who has parental responsibility and what steps you can take as a father who is not married to the child(ren)’s mother, or as a step parent, or as a same-sex couple, to be acknowledged as having parental responsibility for your child(ren). It also explains how to make an application for parental responsibility to be removed.

The definition of Parental Responsibility (PR)

Parental responsibility is defined as the rights, powers, responsibilities and authority a child’s parent have, by law, as regards a child and their property.

What this means in practice is that everyone who has parental responsibility over a child should consult and agree arrangements about things like the child’s schooling, medical care, any change of name, going out of the country on either a temporary or permanent basis, as well as similar major issues which affect the child.

Do both the child’s parents automatically have parental responsibility?

If the child’s parents are legally married to one another when the child is born, both mother and father automatically each have parental responsibility.

If parents are not married to each other at the time of birth, then the mother is the only one to have automatic parental responsibility, even if both parents agree they are in a steady relationship at the time.

This means that, unless he takes specific action, a father does not have an automatic right to have a say in matters concerning his child(ren). While the parents’ relationship continues, it is unlikely to have much of an impact. However, problems often arise if the parents split up before their child(ren) reach the age of 18. An unmarried father could find himself ‘frozen out’ of decisions affecting his child(ren).

I’m an unmarried father. How can I get parental responsibility?

Be registered as the father on the birth certificate

If the child’s birth was registered on 1st December 2003 or later, an unmarried father gets parental responsibility if he is the person named as the child’s father on the birth certificate. If the child’s birth was registered before 1st December 2003, the father does not have parental responsibility even if he is the person named on the certificate as father. If this situation applies, he would have to use one of the other methods mentioned below to gain parental responsibility. In cases where the father’s name is not on the birth certificate but later on the mother agrees that his details can be added, it is possible to re-register the birth. Both parents’ details can be added to the birth certificate. To do this, either:

  • they both sign the register of birth together; or
  • one parent completes and signs a statutory declaration of acknowledgement of parentage form. This must be signed in front of a justice of the peace, magistrate, practising solicitor, notary or similar person. The other party must then take the signed and witnessed form and register the birth.

Parental responsibility agreement

If the mother does not want to re-register the birth, or where the child’s birth was before 1st December 2003 and the unmarried father is already named on the certificate, the father can get parental responsibility through a parental responsibility agreement, as long as the mother consents. This is a court form that must be signed by both parents in front of a justices’ clerk or court officer as a witness.

The form you would need is a Form C (PRA1). Once the form is signed and witnessed, two copies need to be made and they all need to be sent to The Principal Registry of the Family Division. The copies get stamped, then one is returned to each of the parents. The notes that come with the form give more details about how to have the agreement witnessed. They also give the address to send the form to.

Parental responsibility order

In cases where the mother refuses to agree to do either of these, the father can apply to court for a parental responsibility order. As with most situations concerning family matters, you need to have attempted mediation before the court will consider your application. See our pages about mediation for more information about the mediation process and whether you might be exempt from the need to attempt family mediation. Mediation is often a quicker and more successful route to resolving these kinds of disputes than court proceedings – and much less expensive as well.

If all other attempts to negotiate with the child(ren)’s mother are unsuccessful and you have to apply to the courts, you will have to complete one of two forms. If there are ongoing court proceedings, you need to complete a C2 form application and send it to the court where proceedings are ongoing, together with the mediation certificate confirming that mediation is not appropriate. If there are no ongoing court proceedings, you need a C1 form, which you have to send to the Family Court closest to where the child(ren) lives – together with the mediation certificate.

When making its decision whether or not they agree to grant a parental responsibility order, courts have to consider:

  • The level of connection and attachment the father has to the child(ren); and
  • The reasons the father gives for why he is applying for the order.

Residence Order granted before 22 April 2014

If a father did not have parental responsibility for his child(ren), but a residence order has been granted in his favour before 22 April 2014, he will have automatically have gained parental responsibility for his child(ren).

Child Arrangements Order

If a father is the named parent the child(ren) lives with under the terms of a child arrangements order, he automatically gets parental responsibility for his child(ren) if he did not otherwise have it.

The father would gain parental responsibility if he subsequently married the child’s mother.

Female same-sex parents

These rules apply to children conceived on 6 April 2009 or later.

Female same-sex couples – married or civil partners

If the mother and her civil partner/wife were in a civil partnership or married at the time the child was conceived, the civil partner/wife will be considered the child’s legal parent as long as she consented to the insemination treatment. (Consent is presumed in the absence of proof to the contrary). The only exception to this is a case where the child was conceived by sexual intercourse.

The wife/civil partner automatically gains parental responsibility, in the same way as a married father, and may be named as parent on the child’s birth certificate. She does not have to be at the birth registration.

Female same-sex couples – not married or civil partners

The following conditions must both be met in the case of couples who are not civil partners or not married:

  • They must have conceived by means of fertility treatment at a clinic licensed in the UK
  • They must both have signed the election forms (these are provided by the clinic). The forms are only effective if they have been signed prior to the date of conception.

The non-birth parent’s parental responsibility depends on her either being named as parent on the child’s birth certificate, or she can gain parental responsibility later by way of a parental responsibility agreement, alternatively a parental responsibility order. Irrespective of this, she will still have financial responsibility for the child in the same way a natural father would.

Female same-sex couples – not civil partners, not married and the child not conceived through fertility treatment carried out at a UK licensed clinic

The non-birth parent has no legal parental responsibility. Her options will be to consider adopting as a step-parent or applying for parental responsibility through a child arrangements order, named jointly as someone the child lives with together with the mother.

Male same-sex couples

There are currently no established procedures and precedents laid down as far as male same-sex couples gaining parental responsibility is concerned. The law is still at a very early stage of development here, and each case will have to be argued individually to convince the court that the proposed arrangements are in the child’s best interests and that the natural parental responsibility should be removed from the mother – even when she is in full agreement with all your surrogacy arrangements. It is essential here to get legal advice from an experienced family solicitor.

I am married to the child’s birth parent. Can I get parental responsibility as a step-parent?

If you are married to either of the child’s biological parents, you can get parental responsibility through:

  • A step-parental responsibility agreement
  • A step-parental responsibility order
  • Step-parental responsibility adoption

The only option open to a step-parent not married to either of the child’s biological parents is using step-parental responsibility adoption.

Step-parental responsibility agreement

This needs consent from everyone who has parental responsibility, and all must sign the Form C (PRA2) together with the step-parent. Full guidance notes are on the form.

Step-parental responsibility order

If any person who has parental responsibility does not consent to a step-parental responsibility agreement being made, the step-parent would have to apply to Court to obtain a Step-parental responsibility order.

The process is exactly the same as for a parental responsibility order which we explained earlier.

Step-parental responsibility adoption

The application to the court needs to be made on Form A58. If the non-resident birth parent has parental responsibility, they will lose that responsibility if the step-parental responsibility adoption application is granted. The non-resident birth parent will need to give their consent to an adoption order being made, unless the court considers there are exceptional reasons to dispense with requiring consent, in which case extensive enquiries may need to be made, probably involving social services.

Do you have to be a parent or step-parent to get parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is not automatically acquired by those who are not the child’s parents. There are, however, ways of applying for court orders to regulate special situations. These can be complex and specialised, so the best advice would be to speak to an experienced family lawyer to help you decide the best order to apply for and to draw it up for you.

What happens when two people with parental responsibility cannot agree what to do?

It can cause difficult conflict if two people who have parental responsibility really cannot agree on what is best for their child(ren). For example, it could be about medical or education issues, or religious beliefs.

As with all similar disagreements, we strongly advise you to attempt family mediation first. Mediation gives you a much better chance of finding a solution between yourselves without involving the courts and will almost invariably be much less expensive and less stressful than going through the courts.

If all other attempts fail, though, it might be necessary to apply for a court order to decide the issue. Where the court is asked to make a decision and effectively override at least one person’s view who has parental responsibility, the child(ren)’s interests will always be at the front of their minds. There are two different types of order:

  • A specific issue order makes a decision about a particular issue that those with parental responsibility disagree on – for example, which school the child should be enrolled in, or;
  • A prohibited steps order which prevents one person with parental responsibility doing a particular thing – for example, if one person with parental responsibility does not agree to the other person’s wish to take the child abroad.

Is it possible to remove parental responsibility?

Yes, but this is a very extreme course of action, uncommon and a difficult process. The child’s welfare is the paramount issue for the court to consider. As always, you must have attempted mediation before applying to court. The form you need to complete is a C1. Due to the complexity of these sorts of application, we recommend that you get legal advice from an experienced family solicitor and get their help in presenting your arguments to court to explain why the proposed arrangements are in the child(ren)’s best interests. There is a £215 court fee to process your application, plus your solicitor’s costs.


The subject of parental responsibility (PR) regularly comes up in family mediation and it is commonly connected to the father wanting time with the child. These decisions can be made in family mediation and your accredited mediator will give you information about the process. Our blog about family matters has many articles on issues parents commonly face.

If you are looking to make an application to Court and would like support, you could access the Family Court Application Service (FCAS). Their guest blog talks more about their services here.

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