Parental Responsibility

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    What is parental responsibility?

    Parental responsibility is a legal concept that consists of the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that most parents have in respect of their children. It includes the right to give consent to medical treatment, as well as, in certain circumstances, the freedom to delegate some decision-making responsibility to others. Parental responsibility is afforded not only to parents, however, and not all parents have parental responsibility, despite arguably having equal moral rights to make decisions for their children where they have been equally involved in their care.

    Who possesses parental responsibility?

    The law in relation to parental responsibility has been revised. In relation to children born after 1 December 2003 (England and Wales), 15 April 2002 (Northern Ireland) or 4 May 2006 (Scotland), both of a child’s legal parents have parental responsibility if they are registered on the child’s birth certificate. This applies irrespective of whether the parents are married or not. A child’s biological parents are the child’s legal parents (although legal parenthood does not necessarilyconfer parental responsibility), unless the child has been adopted or was born as the result of some methods of assisted reproduction. Where the child has been formally adopted, the adoptive parents are the child’s legal parents and  automatically acquire parental responsibility.

    Where the child has been born as a result of assisted reproduction, there are rules under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 that determine the child’s legal parentage.

    If both parents have parental responsibility, neither lose it if they divorce, and responsibility endures if the child is in care or custody. It can, however, be restricted by court order and it is lost if the child is adopted.

    A person other than a child’s biological parents can acquire parental responsibility by being appointed as the child’s guardian (an appointment usually takes effect on the death of the parents) or by having a residence order made in his or her favour, in which case parental responsibility lasts for the duration of the order. A local authority acquires parental responsibility (shared with the parents) while the child is the subject of a care or supervision order.

    In relation to children born before 1 December 2003 in England and Wales, 15 April 2002 in Northern Ireland, and 4 May 2006 in Scotland, both of a child’s biological parents will only automatically acquire parental responsibility if they were married at the time of the child’s conception or at some time thereafter. If the parents have never been married only the mother automatically has parental responsibility. The father may acquire it in various ways, including by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother, or through a parental responsibility order made by a court.

    In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, parental responsibilities may be exercised until a young person reaches 18 years. In Scotland, only the aspect of parental responsibilities concerned with the giving of “guidance” endures until 18 years, guidance meaning the provision of advice. The rest is lost when the young person reaches 16 years.

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