What does Parental Responsibility mean?

Parental responsibility (PR) is the legal term for the rights and responsibilities that parents have for their children. It means that parents have the right to be involved in major decisions concerning children’s welfare and upbringing including choosing their name, schooling and medical treatment. PR comes to an end when a child reaches the age of 18.

How is PR obtained?

Birth mothers automatically have PR for their children. Fathers also automatically have PR if they are married to the mother at the time of birth or if they are named as the father on the birth certificate and the birth was registered after 1st December 2003. 

Can unmarried fathers obtain Parental Responsibility if they do not automatically have it?

Yes, they can. There are a number of ways unmarried fathers can gain PR for their children. 

  1. They can enter into a voluntary agreement with the mother, called a Parental Responsibility Agreement. 
  2. If the mother objects to PR, a father can make an application to the court and obtain a Parental Responsibility Order. The test the Court applies in deciding whether to grant a Parental Responsibility Order is:
  • Does the applicant have a sufficient attachment to the child?
  • Does applicant have a sufficient commitment to the child?
  • Is the applicant applying for the right motives? 

Does divorce or separation affect PR? 

The answer is no. Once a parent has PR, it cannot be taken away by separation or divorce, irrespective of who the children are living with. The right of a parent to exercise PR increases in importance after separation in relation to a parent who is no longer living with their children. It is important for that parent to remain involved and consulted about decisions affecting their children such as choice of school, choice of religion and decisions taken around medical treatment. Parental Responsibility means that parents are equal in terms of their rights and responsibilities towards the children. 

Problems between parents can arise over decisions affecting their children. If the situation arises it is advisable to speak to a family law solicitor.

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