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What is Parental Responsibility?

What is Parental Responsibility?

Parental Responsibility (PR) is the power given to individuals to make important decisions in relation to the children they hold PR for. These decisions include welfare issues, medical treatment, education of the child, changing of the child’s name, taking the child outside the jurisdiction.

Under S3(1) of the Children Act 1989, PR 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.’

Who has PR/How can it be obtained ?

  • Mothers
  • Fathers (Married to the mother)
  • Unmarried Fathers may be registered on the birth certificate
  • They may enter into a PR agreement with the mother
  • They may get a PR order from court
  • They may obtain a Child Arrangements Order that the child live with them.

Essentials for Seeking an Order for PR

For a Parental Responsibility Order, the following three tests were laid down in H (Minors) (Local Authority: Parental Rights) (No. 3)[1]:

  • The degree of commitment the father has shown towards the child;
  • The degree of attachment which exists between the father and child; and
  • The reasons of the father for applying for the order (a genuine motive).

When can PR be opposed?

In certain cases, Parental Responsibility Order can be refused even when the three conditions are satisfied. A man F applied for a parental responsibility order and a contact order in respect of his son S. On finding as a fact that F had sadistically injured S, the judge refused parental responsibility and granted only supervised contact. In Re H, Butler-Sloss LJ said the standard “tripartite test” for a parental responsibility order is based on the father’s degree of commitment to the child, the degree of attachment between them, and the father’s reasons for applying, but this is no more than a starting point. The child’s welfare is the paramount consideration; in the instant case the judge had been right to refuse an order, even though the three criteria were met, and F’s appeal failed.[2]

Grounds for Opposing PR include (as laid down in Re H)

  • Using the child as a pawn to harass others
  • Irresponsible behaviour
  • Failing the aforementioned 3 stage test
  • Lack of commitment
  • Child Abuse and Cruelty


[1] Re[1991] Fam. 151.

[2] [1998] 1 FLR 855, CA.


Aqeela Hafeez / Leah Cooper
Chartered Legal Executive / Paralegal


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