Parental responsibility

Barker Son & Isherwood LLP


Phone 01264 353411


Parental responsibility is a straightforward concept. It is a set of duties placed on the parent(s) of children to look after those children, to raise them, and make important decisions on their behalf.

These are the things that parents usually do entirely naturally, and without ever labelling it as ‘carrying out our parental responsibilities’. So, why does parental responsibility get written about so regularly? The answer is probably two-fold. Firstly, not all parents fulfil their duties. Secondly, parental responsibility can be a thorny issue for some families because not all parents automatically acquire it.

A child’s natural mother always will, from the child’s birth. A father will if he is married to the child’s mother, or if he is named on the birth certificate. Unmarried parents would therefore be advised to jointly register the birth of their child so that the father acquires parental responsibility. That would be the most straightforward solution, although it is also possible to put in place a parental responsibility agreement or, if the mother objects to the father having parental responsibility, applying to the court for an order that it be given to him.

What about same-sex relationships? If a child’s parents are civil partners or are married, they will each have parental responsibility. If they are not, there are things that can be done for the non-biological parent to acquire parental responsibility. We will be able to advise you on the best course of action. 

Similarly, we advise people who are not a parent but who would like to have parental responsibility in respect of a child. If there is a sufficient connection with the child  (they are a step-father, for example) and if the adult’s motives are all good, it is perfectly possible for that person to acquire parental responsibility, even if it is already held by the child’s natural parents.

Advising on acquiring parental responsibility is one thing. We also advise on the issues that can arise between separated parents who each hold parental responsibility. While many succeed in reaching joint decisions – where their child should go to school, for example – others find it difficult to have constructive conversations with their former partner. Sadly, parental responsibility isn’t always exercised in the best interests of the child and in some cases this leads to the court stepping in.

For advice about any aspect of parental responsibility, contact Sandra Machin or Jennifer Peebles on or call for an appointment on 01264 353411.

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