Modern Families and Parental Responsibility

Starting a relationship

posted: 30th September 2016

Renn Moucarry, a paralegal at PMC Family Law, discusses parental responsibility

Modern Families and Parental Responsibility

Over the years the composition of families and households has become more and more diverse.

Today, modern families include:

• Married Couples and Civil Partners with dependent children (4.7 million in 2015, up 1.9% from 2005);
• Lone Parents with dependent children (2 million in 2015, up 12.1% from 2005); and
• Cohabitees with dependent children (1.3 million in 2015, up 29.7% from 2005).


Given the changing family dynamics, the issue of parental responsibility may be unclear.

So what is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility gives parents or guardians the right to be involved in and make important decisions about their child’s upbringing.

This could include decisions about:

• What religion the child should follow;
• Where they should live;
• What school they should go to; and
• What medical treatment they should receive.

Who has parental responsibility?

Mothers automatically have parental responsibility. So does a father if he is married to the mother when the child is born.

However, it may surprise some people to know that unmarried fathers do not automatically have parental responsibility.

Given the rise in the number of cohabiting couples with children this may post questions for unmarried fathers.

So what can fathers do to obtain parental responsibility?

Fathers can marry the mother. Or, if the relationship has broken down, there are other options they can consider. These include:

• registering or re-registering their name on the birth certificate;
• drawing up a parental responsibility agreement;
• obtaining a parental responsibility order specifying who a child lives with from the court;
• getting a child arrangement order from the court; or
• being appointed as the legal guardian of the child on the death of the mother.

What about people who aren’t the father?

Other people who care for the child, such as step parents and same-sex partners who are joined by civil partnership, do not automatically have parental responsibility but they can obtain it also.

So why is this important?

Everyday decisions such as permission for school trips can usually be given by one parent. However, for big decisions, such as: choosing a school; agreeing medical treatment, changing a child’s name or taking the child on holiday, both parents should agree.

It’s important for parents to be on the same page on these matters as if they disagree and one parent has strong objections, then it is possible for them to apply to the court for an order to prevent the action.

If this happens you may wish to take legal advice in order to come to an arrangement with regard to the future welfare and upbringing of your child.

For a confidential discussion about parental responsibility or any other family law matter contact PMC Family Law on 0151 375 9968 or visit