Andrew Woolley, Managing Partner of Woolley & Co, who specialise in all areas of family law, divorce and legal separation, said, “On a practical level, having parental responsibility will, amongst other things, allow you to contact your child’s GP to obtain or discuss medical treatment for your child and to play an active role in your child’s education, giving you access to school reports, parents evenings, and that sort of thing.
“In most instances this is not a huge issue and that is why it is not something that many people are particularly aware of. However it comes to the fore at times like school holidays when a child might spend more time with the parent they do not ordinarily live with. The father may not have automatic responsibility, and if they have a new partner, they almost certainly won’t unless they have consulted a family lawyer and put in place a special agreement.”
Parental responsibility is defined as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.”
A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child, as does a married father, irrespective of whether the marriage to the mother occurred before or after the birth of the child. As from the 1st December 2003 unmarried fathers of children born after this date, provided they are named on the birth certificate of the child, also have parental responsibility. So fathers whose son or daughter is more than five years four months old, who are not married to the child’s mother and not on the birth certificate, may not be able to take important decisions for their child if the mother is absent.
If you are a father who does not have parental responsibility there are several ways it can be obtained. Firstly parental responsibility can be obtained by marrying the mother of the child, however of course this is not always an option. There are other ways of securing parental responsibility, all of which require the expertise of a qualified family lawyer. You can either enter into a voluntary Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother, or obtain an order of the court (Parental Responsibility Order). Both of these routes can be facilitated by a family lawyer.
Ultimately you hope that the most important parental responsibilities will never come in to play, particularly ones regarding medical treatment, but if you are at all concerned about your rights as a parent you are advised to consult a family law expert to ensure you are fully aware of your position within the law.
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