Parental Rights and Responsibilities (PRRs)

For births registered in Scotland, a father acquires parental responsibility if he was married to the mother at the time of the child’s conception or
subsequently. An unmarried father will acquire parental responsibility if he is recorded on the child’s birth certificate and the child was born on or after 4 May 2006 (Scotland), December 2003 (England).

If not on the birth certificate, an unmarried father must obtain a court registered parental responsibility agreement or order.  Birth certificates can be updated with new information.

Parental responsibility is not lost automatically with divorce, loss of custody rights, or if a parent makes no financial contribution! Young people under the age of 16 who bear children still get rights, although usually additional support will be necessary.

Foster parents usually do not have parental responsibility – that remains with the local authority and the birth parents. The parental rights of a child born under a surrogacy arrangement remain with the surrogate until the new parents complete adoption procedures or else obtain a court order (under the HFE Act).

Parents are allowed to authorize 3rd parties eg child minders, Grandparents to take over particular responsibilities. In terms of the Childrens Act, what is reasonable to safeguard/promote the child’s welfare is permitted to such carers (in loco parentis). If however the parent is thought likely to
object to a treatment decision, only emergency actions are acceptable pending contact with the parents directly.  Competence of child themselves obviously relevant too.

Up to 6 people can have PRRs for the same child.  But becomes unmanageable!

Decisions regarding the following should involve consultation between all with PRRs:

  • schooling,
  • serious medical problems,
  • changing surname,
  • leaving country for more than 1 month
  • Etc (not exhaustive)

But PRRs are not a weapon for interfering with day to day life!  Gillick ruling made it clear that parental rights exist only for the benefit of the child! Less serious decisions may simply require other party to be informed.

Stepfathers are in a funny position.  Marrying the mother gives rights, but does not remove rights from biological father.  Not being married leaves only the option of adoption, or else applying for court order if later separation after being an important part of a child’s life.

Non-consensual adoption under close judicial scrutiny – the consent of the parent with capacity can only be dispensed with if “nothing else will do”, and not because providing requisite support is difficult.[]

Civil Partners – biological parents remain the legal parents.  Civil partnership confers equivalent step-parent status as married non-biological parent. Parental responsibility can therefore be obtained either by consent of biological parents, court order or adoption.

Residence Order confers PRRs too. Contact Order does not.

It should be noted that parents who do not have parental responsibility may also play an essential role in determining best interests and may have a right, under the Human Rights Act (rights, as individuals, to respect for private and family life – Article 8), to participate in treatment decisions  [BMA toolkit].