Who has parental responsibility and what decisions can they make?

Parental responsibility gives parents rights and responsibilities in respect of a child. When two parents both have parental responsibility, certain decisions have to be agreed between them. 

Who has parental responsibility?

Simply being a child’s parent does not necessarily mean you have parental responsibility. It is given automatically to the following people:

  • The child’s birth mother
  • A father who is married to the mother at the time the child was born
  • Unmarried fathers who are named on the birth certificate when registration of the birth took place after 1 December 2003
  • Civil partners and partners who are registered as the child’s legal parent on the birth certificate.

What is parental responsibility?

Legally, parental responsibility is defined as all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which a parent has in respect of a child and their property. This includes the duty to provide a home, to protect and maintain the child and the authority to make decisions in respect of the child. These decisions include the following:

  • Choosing your child’s name
  • Where they will go to school
  • Decisions as to medical treatment
  • Whether or not they will follow a religion and, if so, which one
  • What discipline will be used
  • Whether the child can go abroad
  • Who will be appointed as their legal guardian

When two parents both have parental responsibility

If two parents have parental responsibility, then the major decisions must be agreed upon by both of them. 

Minor decisions do not need to be agreed by each parent and in practice, the parent looking after the child on a day-to-day basis will make many small unilateral decisions.

However, the other parent should be consulted in respect of issues such as holidays, stopping medical treatment, which school they will go to, attending school events and at what age they can see films with a particular age-rating.

Putting a parenting agreement in place

It can be very helpful for parents to draw up a parenting agreement. This will set out details of who can agree what and will go a long way to avoiding disputes between parents, as each knows what is expected of them and which decisions must be made together.

While there is no legal definition of a decision that must be taken jointly, the courts have given guidance in previous cases which provides a starting point.

Decisions that can be made independently often include what the child will do with a parent during their contact together, personal care matters, the child’s activities and continuing GP medical treatment.

Decisions that a parent should be informed of but that do not need consultation or where the other parent’s views do not have to be taken into account include booking a holiday in contact time, to include going abroad, emergency medical treatment, and planned GP visits.

Decisions, where the other parent should be consulted, include choosing a school, scheduling contact during the school holidays, planned medical treatment, stopping medical treatment, arranging attendance at school functions so that both parents can be there and the age that children can watch age-rated films.

If a parenting agreement is made, there is the option to make it legally binding by asking the court to put it into a consent order.

If you do not have parental responsibility for your child

If you cannot reach an agreement with the mother to obtain parental responsibility by consent, you can make an application to the court to secure this. 

Even without parental responsibility, fathers can still play an important role in their child’s life.. They have the right to apply to the court for contact or residence and they can object to certain actions, such as removing a child from the country or make emergency applications if there are concerns about the immediate welfare of the child. .

Contact us

At Tayntons we have wide experience in all aspects of divorce and family law. If you would like to speak to one of our expert solicitors about parental responsibility or child arrangements, email us at info@tayntons.co.uk, call us on 0800 158 4147 or request a call back and a member of our team will be in touch promptly.


To contact us please call 0800 158 4147, 03330 145451, email info@tayntons.co.uk or use our