Parental Responsibility is defined as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, a parent of the child has to the child and their property”.
Therefore if you have Parental Responsibility in the eyes of the law you are recognised as having all the legal powers to make and take proper decisions about the upbringing of your child.
A mother automatically acquires Parental Responsibility by giving birth to her child. In addition a married father (irrespective of whether the parties were married at the time of the birth of the child) also automatically acquires Parental Responsibility in respect of his child.
As from the 1st December 2003 unmarried fathers who are registered on the birth certificate of their child will also automatically acquire Parental Responsibility in respect of their child.
Therefore this can come as a complete shock to those unmarried fathers who presumed by virtue of their biological status as the father of the child that they will have acquired an equal status as the mother, when in fact they will not have the same legal standing if –
1) The child was born pre 1st December 2003 and the father has not acquired Parental Responsibility by virtue of marriage to the mother; or
2) The child was born after the 1st December 2003 but the father has not been named on the child’s birth certificate
This means that the unmarried father without Parental Responsibility will not be able to give permission for medical treatment or will not be legally entitled to school progress reports and other important aspects relating to their child’s upbringing.
How to acquire Parental Responsibility
1. As stated above, if the parties marry after the birth of their child the father will automatically acquire Parental Responsibility in respect of that child;
2. By entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother;
3. In the event that the mother refuses to a Parental Responsibility Agreement, by obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the Court;
4. If the father is able to secure a Residence Order in respect of the child then this will also automatically entitle the unmarried father to acquire Parental Responsibility.
Before the Court will grant a Parental Responsibility Order the father will need to show that he has a strong bond/connection with the child and that he is committed to the child’s upbringing. This application must be issued with the best interest of the child at heart.