What is parental responsibility? Who has it? Who can acquire it?
In my last previous article on this subject I looked at the role of step-parents and, more importantly, their legal status. To recap, a step-parent doesn’t typically have any ‘custody’ rights to stepchildren and therefore their powers are limited in respect of their step children. I gave the following example of where the legal status of a step parent could be an issue…
You have recently married your spouse who has two children, Lily and Harry. Your spouse is at brownie camp with Lily for a few days leaving you to care for Harry at home. Harry is out playing football with his mates at the park. You get a visit from a police officer who tells you that Harry has been in a fight and has harmed another boy. He is also injured and has been taken to hospital in an ambulance. He needs an operation on his broken jaw and the police also want to question him further about his behaviour. You cannot get hold of Harry’s mother or his biological father. What do you do and more importantly what are you allowed to do? The answer lies in whether you have ‘Parental Responsibility’ or not.
In short, you cannot give consent for any medical treatment to be carried out on Harry, nor can you accompany him whilst being questioned by the police. This can only come from someone who has parental responsibility.
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What is Parental Responsibility?
Parental responsibility is defined as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, a parent of a child has in relation to the child and their
Who has Parental Responsibility?
The child’s birth mother will automatically have parental responsibility. The child’s father will automatically have parental responsibility if he is married to the child’s mother or if the child was born after 1 December 2003 and he is named on the child’s birth certificate. As a step-parent no matter how involved you are in the lives of your partner’s children, or how much you contribute to their upbringing – financially or otherwise – you will not automatically gain parental responsibility. Remember, an unmarried partner is not legally a step-parent.
Can a step-parent acquire Parental Responsibility?
A step-parent can only acquire parental responsibility for a child in very specific circumstances including:
- When the court makes a Child Arrangements Order that the child lives with the step-parent either on their own or with another person. However these types of ‘step parent’ orders are uncommon.
- When the step-parent adopts a child which puts him/her in the same position as a birth parent.
- Through the signing of a Parental Responsibility Agreement to which all other people with Parental Responsibility consent. This is a formal document which needs to be signed by all the parties and then registered at court.
- When the court has made a Parental Responsibility Order following an application by the step-parent. On acquiring parental responsibility, a step-parent has the same duties and responsibilities as a natural parent.
I am always surprised at just how little Parental Responsibility Agreements are used and can only assume that step-parents are not aware of them and just how important they
may be. Further information can be found on the Resolution website: http://www.resolution.org.uk/childrenandlaw/
If you would like more information on this subject download our free factsheet on parental responsibility.
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