Acquiring parental responsibility

stack of logsParental responsibility gives you the right to make and be involved in decisions about your child's care, including decisions as to medical treatment, education and religion.  If you share parental responsibility with someone else, then you are expected to agree how to exercise it together.  That does not mean that you have to consult each other about every decision, but you are broadly expected to agree and in particular to both be involved in any important decisions.

Who can have parental responsibility for a child?

The mother who gives birth always has parental responsibility, as does her spouse (if a legal parent of the child), anyone properly registered on the birth certificate as a legal parent, and anyone who is granted an adoption order or a parental order. 

Anyone else may need to take steps to acquire parental responsibility, for example a parent's partner or anyone else who is caring for a child in practice.  Although a child can only have two legal parents, there is no limit to how many people can share parental responsibility. 

How do you get parental responsibility for a child?

Legal parents
If you are your child's legal father (or a non-birth mother who is a legal parent at the time your child is conceived), you acquire parental responsibility by:

  • Marrying (or forming a civil partnership with) your child's mother
  • Being registered on your child's birth certificate (after 1 December 2003)
  • Signing a parental responsibility agreement with your child's mother (there is one form for legal fathers and another form for non-birth mothers who are legal parents)
  • Obtaining a parental responsibility order from the court.

Step-parents (by marriage or civil partnership)
For these purposes, a step-parent is someone who is married to (or a civil partner of) a parent who has parental responsibility. If you are a married step-parent, you can acquire parental responsibility by:

  • Signing a step-parent parental responsibility agreement with your child's other parent/s (although a parent who does not have parental responsibility does not need to sign)
  • Obtaining a step-parent parental responsibility order from the court.

Other adults
If you are not legally a parent or step-parent, you can only acquire parental responsibility via a child arrangements order.  This involves a court application, but should be straightforward if everyone is in agreement.

Disputed cases
If relationships have broken down and you wish to acquire parental responsibility without the agreement of everyone involved, the law is more complex.  Find out more about disputes about status in relation to children

Have we answered your question? Would you like advice on your personal circumstances?

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