The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of parental responsibility (PR), to focus the move away from parental rights over a child to responsibility for a child. The Act defines parental responsibility as “…all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.”
In practice, this gives an individual the authority to make day to day and major decisions relating to a child’s life. PR is a diminishing responsibility, ultimately eroding when a child becomes mature enough to be responsible for areas of their own life, before they turn 18.
Parental responsibility is not automatically given to any individual, other than a child’s mother. Fathers will be granted PR if they are married to a child’s mother. Although there are numerous ways an unmarried father can acquire parental responsibility, this is usually done by being registered on the child’s birth certificate or by obtaining a child arrangements order from the court.
The courts play a central role in circumstances that require parental responsibility to be removed from a party, although this is occurs relatively infrequently. Of greater occurrence, is their role in assigned responsibility to step-parents or new partners in a family unit. If provision of parental responsibility for a step-parent cannot be agreed by all pre-existing PR holders, it will be for the court to consider if this is appropriate.
This will be judged on a case by case basis, but always considering the welfare checklist, in assessing what decision is in the best interest of the child.
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