Following on from my previous blog, “Who’s the daddy?”, which featured comments on the latest Bridget Jones film. Many of us have now had the opportunity to watch it and were left guessing as to whether the father was Mark or Jack. It wasn’t until the penultimate scene where all was revealed. We saw Bridget and Mark at their wedding with Jack present in the front row. He was holding the baby and looked every inch the happy Dad. That was until Mark asked Jack to “give me back my son” and it’s revealed…Mark was the father after all! Which brings me to question the issue of Parental Responsibility.
What is Parental Responsibility?
It is a legal term that the Children Act 1989 defines as “all the legal rights, duties, powers and responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”¹. A child is defined as a person under the age of 18.
Having Parental Responsibility means that you are responsible for and have the right to be consulted about the child’s health, education, religion and welfare. When it comes to changing a child’s name, everyone with responsibility must consent to the name change. In the absence of an agreement, an application must be made to the court for a Specific Issue Order.
Who has Parental Responsibility?
If parents are not married at the time of the child’s birth only the mother has Parental Responsibility. If the parents are married at the time of the child’s birth, the parents have joint responsibility.
How can unmarried fathers acquire Parental Responsibility?
If the mother and father are not married at the time a child is born, the father can do one of the following things to gain the responsibility:
- Enter into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother.
- Apply to the family court for a Parental Responsibility Order.
- Registering as the father on the child’s birth certificate with the consent of the mother (this is only applicable if the child was born after 1st December 2003).
- Marrying the mother.
- Being appointed a guardian either by the mother or by the court (although in these circumstances a father would only assume Parental Responsibility on the death of the mother).
- Obtaining a Child Arrangements Order from the family court requiring the child to live with the father.
Can anyone else acquire Parental Responsibility or is this limited only to the parents of a child?
There is no limit to the number of people who can have Parental Responsibility at any one time. No one will lose the responsibility just because another person acquires it. Other people can acquire Parental Responsibility for a child. Either by entering into an agreement with all people who currently share responsibility, by obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order or by obtaining a Child Arrangements Order that requires the child to live with them. It is common for grandparents or aunts and uncles to apply for Shared Parental Responsibility. This happens frequently when the main carer is suffering a long-term or terminal illness that affects their ability to care for the child on a day-to-day basis. They are therefore reliant on other family members to assist for periods of time.
How can a person lose Parental Responsibility?
Mothers and fathers who were married at the time of birth can only lose their Parental Responsibility upon the child’s death, adoption or attainment of the age of 18. It cannot be terminated by a court order. However unmarried fathers, partners, civil partners and other individuals who have since obtained Parental Responsibility can have it removed if an application to the court for an order ending it is granted. Such orders are rare and are made in only the most exceptional of circumstances.
What does having Parental Responsibility mean on a day-to-day basis?
A person with Parental Responsibility is entitled to take day-to-day decisions in relation to the care of their child without interference from anyone else. This may cover areas around nutrition, recreation and outings. It is not possible for a person to transfer or surrender the responsibility. They can howver delegate it on a temporary basis.
Temporary carers (such as nannies or grandparents) “may do what is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare”². This could cover the need for emergency medical treatment for the child when the parent is absent and a nanny or grandparent is in charge.
What can be done if a parent makes a decision which the other parent is unhappy about?
The only way to challenge a decision is to make an application to court for a Specific Issue Order or a Prohibited Steps Order. These decisions may relate to medical treatment, religion, education, changing a child’s name and holidays.
So back to Bridget – does Mark Darcy share Parental Responsibility?
Mark will not have had Shared Parental Responsibility for Bridget’s baby at the time of birth. However by marrying Bridget, he has certainly acquired it. Although, it is possible that he may have had Shared Parental Responsibility prior to their marriage if Bridget had given consent to Mark being registered as the baby’s father on the birth certificate.
¹Section 3(1) Children Act 1989
²Section 3(5) Children Act 1989