Parental Responsibility and Parental Rights in the UK

Before you start negotiating a parenting plan or residence and contact schedule for your child, you should hold parental responsibility, which gives you the legal right to make decisions for them.

A birth mother has parental responsibility automatically, and a father can get it in multiple ways.

An unlimited number of other people can also share parental responsibility if they follow the proper procedure.

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Parental responsibility

All parents have a set of legal obligations to their child. This is known as parental responsibility.

In daily life, parental responsibility means:

  • Making decisions for the child, including medical decisions
  • Providing the child with guidance
  • Looking after the child
  • Educating the child
  • Allowing the child to have an equal relationship with both parents
  • Acting as the child's legal representative when necessary
  • Consenting to the child's travel

Parental responsibility runs until your child is 16, unless the court ends it sooner. The responsibility to provide guidance, however, lasts until your child turns 18.

Certain orders — normally issued as a result of abuse or neglect — may give the local authority or a special guardian parental responsibility until the child's 18th birthday.

Of course, practically speaking, your child's ability to make choices increases with age, whilst your control as a parent diminishes.

Parental rights (Scotland)

In Scotland, parental rights accompany parental responsibility by law.

Every responsibility has a corresponding right. For example, your responsibility to look after your child comes with the right to decide how you do so.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland shy away from the idea of parental rights in case emphasising a parent's rights might de-emphasise the welfare of their child.

Getting parental responsibility as a parent

A birth mother has parental responsibility from the moment her child is born, even if it was a surrogate pregnancy, if she is not the biological mother or if she intends to have the child adopted.

The other parent can get parental responsibility by:

The biological father also has the option to add his name to his child's birth certificate later. You can get the form online to Re-register a birth in England or Wales or in Northern Ireland. In Scotland, parents must email

You can change a child's legal parent by adopting the child or getting a Parental Order from the court (following a surrogate pregnancy), both of which give you parental responsibility.

Getting parental responsibility as a nonparent

Though a child can only have two legal parents, an unlimited number of people can hold parental responsibility — including stepparents, grandparents and others with an interest in the child's welfare.

They can get this responsibility in several ways:

By agreement

It's most common to write up an agreement with the parents (and with anyone else who has parental responsibility). This often happens when same-sex couples want to collaborate with their child's biological parents or when grandparents want guaranteed involvement.

Stepparents in England or Wales can complete a Stepparent Parental Responsibility Agreement form with the child's other parents. Stepparents in other countries should create a similar document.

You might try an alternative dispute resolution method such as mediation to reach an agreement.

Once you have an agreement, you can formalise it by hiring a solicitor to submit it to court for approval.

By default

You may have parental responsibility simply by default if the court considers you a psychological parent. This is someone who proves they have consistently cared for a child over an extended period.

To prove that you're a psychological parent, you may want to present the judge with a calendar of when you care for the child, a parenting journal, expense reports, etc.

You won't know if you're considered a psychological parent until you land in court. Due to this uncertainty, a parental responsibility agreement is a far better option.

Through a court order

If an agreement is not possible and the court isn't satisfied you are a psychological parent, then you have to apply for a Parental Responsibility Order. If you are in England, Wales or Northern Ireland you could also apply for a Special Guardianship Order.

Familiarise yourself with the court process in England and Wales, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Staying organised as you seek parental responsibility

Going to court for parental responsibility requires serious organisation.

You may want to calculate your parenting time or save messages exchanged with the other parent to show your importance in your child's life.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of that in one place. It makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises as you determine your child's new arrangements.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your situation.

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