Parental responsibility and parental rights form a complex area of family law with various caveats adding to the complexity in many cases. To help cut through the misinformation and make the law surrounding this often emotional area of family law much clearer, our expert solicitors have created this easy to understand guide to help anyone confused about their rights and responsibilities.
What is parental responsibility?
In a nutshell, parental responsibility pertains to the legal rights, parental duties and responsibility a parent or carer has for a child and any property the child may have.
In many cases, the mother of the child automatically has parental responsibility by virtue of having given birth. However, when it comes to the biological father of the child, the legalities are not so straightforward.
Married fathers (even if they are separated from the child’s mother) now also have automatic parental responsibility, but unwed fathers, step-fathers, step-mothers and other carers must follow due legal process in order to be granted parental responsibility.
Parental responsibility and the law
In the eyes of the law, having parental responsibility for a child or children gives the individual a unique set of rights which encompasses everything from living arrangements to education and medical treatments for the minor(s) in question including:
- Where a child lives
- Whether or not a child has medical treatment
- How and where a child is educated
- Which, if any, religion a child follows
- Deciding a child’s name and registering their birth
- Giving consent for a child to leave the country, whether for a holiday or permanently to reside overseas
How do I get parental responsibility?
If you fall into one of the categories above and are not automatically granted parental responsibility, it is possible to be given parental responsibility by a court of law, even if you are not the biological parent of the child.
There are several legal courses of action that can be taken should you seek parental responsibility. It is always advisable to seek legal advice as soon as possible so that you are fully aware of the legal process involved, allowing you to make an informed decision.
There are three avenues available:
Parental responsibility agreements
If you and the other biological parent of the child agree that parental responsibility should be shared, making an agreement between both parties can make the process much easier and prevents the need to attend court to seek an order.
Instead, a form can be signed by both parents and witnessed by an officer of the court with an individual form needing to be filled in for each child.
Parental responsibility orders
Should both parents fail to come to an agreement on parental responsibility, the parent or step-parent can apply to the court for a parental responsibility order.
In this situation, the court will decide if granting parental responsibility to you will be in the best interests of the child or children with their welfare given top priority.
During the decision making process, the court will normally take into the level of attachment between the parent and child and whether the parent, by their actions during and since the application, has shown sufficient commitment to the child to justify giving them parental responsibility.
In most cases, the unmarried biological father will be given parental responsibly unless there is a very good reason for it not to be granted.
Often, where two parents cannot agree, the legal process can be stressful and drawn out. Having a family lawyer can open up a channel of communication between the parents and protect the best interests of their client when faced with a parental responsibility order.
Appointing a guardian
If someone is appointed as a special guardian for a child, they will automatically be granted parental responsibility.
There is a wide variety of circumstances where guardianships can be given by the courts, with parents able to name guardians after their death in their will or even grandparents seeking parental responsibility for a child whose parents are unable to care for them properly.
This area of family law can be incredibly complex and often emotionally charged, so it is always advisable to seek the support of an experienced and professional family law specialist who can help you understand the legal process surrounding parental responsibility.
Again, the court will make their decision based on the best interests of the child, rather than the person that is most closely related to them. Having a family law solicitor on side can help you put forward the strongest possible case and ensure you understand what to expect at every stage of the legal process.