What is this thing called “Parental Responsibility”?

June 19, 2019 3:18 pm Published by

Parental Responsibility was introduced by the Children Act 1989 and it emphasizes the importance of responsibility for children, rather than rights over children.  It is defined in section 3(1) of the Act 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.”  Once a parent has parental responsibility he/she may not surrender or transfer any part of that responsibility.  However, he or she may arrange for some part, or all, of that responsibility to be met by one or more of other persons, eg. Schools, Local Authorities and churches.  In addition, the Children Act allows those having parental responsibility for a child to act alone (in some respects) and without the other (or others) in meeting that responsibility.

There is no other definition of parental responsibility in the Children Act as the Law Commission took the view that the list would be changing constantly to meet differing needs and circumstances.  More recently the current President of the Family Division, when sitting in the Court of Appeal, gave further consideration to duties and responsibilities while hearing a dispute about parental contact with a child.  McFarlane LJ pointed out in that case, “The phrase under consideration is not ‘parental rights’ but ‘parental responsibility’.  He went on to state, “Where two parents share parental responsibility, it will be the duty on one parent to ensure that the rights of the other parent are respected, and vice versa, for the benefit of the child.”

Those who have parental responsibility for children and how it may be acquired is set out in the Children Act.  If a parent of a child does not have parental responsibility it may be obtained by agreement between the parents or by application to the Family Court.  Anybody who is unsure about his rights and responsibilities for a child should obtain specialist legal advice from an experienced family lawyer.

John Simpson is a collaborative family lawyer and a Resolution Accredited Specialist in Children Law and Complex Financial Remedies; he can advise on all aspects of separation, divorce, finances and children’s issues.  He is contactable on 01473 230033 or by e-mail to our family department PA (Hannah Beck) hlb@blockslegal.co.uk