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Parental responsibility – what rights does it give me?

Co-parenting after a relationship ends can be tough - especially if you don't always see eye to eye on what is best for your child.

Things can get particularly tricky when one parent wants to change the child's school, for instance, take them on an extended holiday or even change their surname to reflect new family arrangements against the other parent's wishes.

If you are not happy, the first question to ask yourself is: Do I have parental responsibility?

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is all the duties and obligations you have towards a child as a parent.

This covers everything from food, shelter, safety and financial provision as well as education, religion, discipline, medical treatment, the name by which the child should be known and where they should live.

Who has parental responsibility?

A child's biological mother automatically has parental responsibility (PR) as does a father married to the mother at the time of the birth or afterwards.

Unmarried fathers also have PR if they are named on the birth certificate (after 1 December 2003) and also if:

  • They are named by a Child Arrangement Order as the residential parent;
  • Have been granted PR by a court order;
  • Have entered into a 'parental responsibility agreement' with the mother.

What rights does having parental responsibility give you?

If you have PR, you are allowed to make or share in important decisions affecting your child's upbringing.

For example, if both parents have PR and there are no court orders in place, neither can take the child out of England and Wales without the consent of the other. The same applies to changing a child's name.

When it comes to decisions like changing schools, it can be more difficult - especially if it's something the residential parent feels strongly about.

Sorting out a difference of parental opinion

If at all possible, the best place to start is by talking through the problem, airing concerns on both sides before coming to an agreement you are both reasonably happy with.

But obviously, this is not always possible and you may need to consider mediation using a neutral third party to help you to explore all the options and find a way forward.

If this doesn't work, you may be able to apply to the Family Courts for a Specific Issue Order which enables the court to look at the problem in question and make a decision based on the child's best interests.

For help and legal advice on this area of the law, please contact our Family and Divorce team or pop into one of our 11 local offices

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