What Is Parental Responsibility and Can It Be Removed?

sarah ryan
Sarah RyanAccount Manager @ Lawhive & Non-Practising Solicitor
Updated on 29th January 2024

Parental responsibility in family law defines when each parent or guardian is accountable for their children and what these responsibilities involve.


In this article, we'll cover:

  1. Who has parental responsibility?

  2. Is parental responsibility automatic?

  3. How does parental responsibility work for same-sex couples?

  4. Can parental responsibility be removed?

  5. How can you get parental responsibility?

  6. What happens if parents can't agree?

What does parental responsibility mean?

Parental responsibility, according to the Children’s Act 1989, includes all the rights, duties, powers, and authority that a parent has regarding their child and their possessions.

Key responsibilities include providing a home for the child and ensuring the child's safety and well-being.

Additional responsibilities involve:

  • Setting boundaries and disciplining the child

  • Overseeing the child's education

  • Authorising medical treatment

  • Deciding on the child's name and any changes to it

  • Designating a legal guardian in case of parental death

  • Managing the child's property

  • Representing the child in legal matters

  • Nurturing the child's religious upbringing, especially in mixed-faith households.

Contrary to popular belief, parents must financially support their children regardless of their legal parental responsibility status.

Who has parental responsibility?

Almost all mothers and most fathers are legally recognised as parents with rights and responsibilities, known as parental responsibilities.

Parental responsibility applies to:

Is parental responsibility automatic?

Automatic parental responsibility means that a parent is responsible for their child regardless of their relationship status with the other parent. However, it doesn't mean they make day-to-day decisions when the child is living with the other parent.

It's beneficial for parents to agree on routines and discuss introducing new partners to the child. Only if a new partner poses a risk to the child can a parent prevent them from living with the child.

Most parents have automatic responsibility, but there are exceptions. These include:

  • Fathers who aren't married to the mother

  • Step-parents

  • Grandparents

Is parental responsibility different for same-sex couples?

Parental responsibility for same-sex couples is determined by their relationship circumstances, similar to mixed-sex couples. However, navigating the legislation for same-sex couples can sometimes be confusing.

Female Same-Sex Parents

"Second" female parents refers to a woman who is the non-biological parent of a donor-conceived child. If they were married or in a civil partnership with the birth mother, they typically have parental responsibility, except in cases where conception occurred through a sexual relationship or the second parent did not consent to the conception.

With IVF treatment, the birth mother automatically assumes parental responsibility, and her spouse or civil partner will be named on the birth certificate, granting them parental responsibility.

In cases where a known male donor is used, the donor is considered before the mother's partner for assuming parental responsibility. If there's disagreement on parental responsibility between the donor and the mother, court intervention may be necessary.

For anonymous donors or those who choose not to assume parental responsibility, they are not obligated to do so.

Male Same-Sex Parents

For same-sex male couples, surrogacy is one option for starting a family, but it can raise questions about parental responsibility. With surrogacy, determining parental responsibility can be complex, especially regarding the role of the surrogate mother.

Married male couples and those in civil partnerships can pursue a Parental Order, granted under the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990, with the surrogate's consent. The court evaluates whether granting the order is in the child's best interest. If approved, parental responsibility shifts from the surrogate to the intended parents.

Alternatively, many same-sex male couples opt for adoption. Through the court, married couples and civil partners can seek an Adoption Order. Once granted, both fathers assume parental responsibility for their child.

Can parental responsibility be removed?

Parental responsibility typically ends when a child turns 18 or under certain conditions, such as adoption or the death of a parent.

Additionally, if parental responsibility was granted through a Child Arrangements Order that expires, it also ends.

Parental responsibility can be removed in exceptional cases, particularly if a parent abuses their child. However, such circumstances are rare and require court approval.

Under what circumstances will the court remove parental responsibility?

One parent may seek to remove parental responsibility from their partner through a court application, especially if the child's welfare is at risk. This can involve various court orders, such as a Child Arrangement Order, Specific Issue Order, or Prohibited Steps Order.

A mother can only lose parental responsibility through adoption, while a father's parental responsibility may be revoked by the court in exceptional circumstances deemed best for the child.

There have been recent legislative developments, with the Government approving a reform proposal to remove parental responsibility from parents convicted of killing their child's other parent. This proposal followed a campaign led by the family of Jade Ward, who tragically lost her life at the hands of her partner, and is known as Jade's Law.

How to remove parental responsibility

Parental responsibility can only be revoked through a court order, which is granted only in exceptional circumstances. The success of such an application hinges on the nature of the relationship and the circumstances surrounding the initial granting of parental responsibility.

How to get parental responsibility

Parental responsibility can be obtained by various individuals, including:

Biological fathers

If the father was not married to the mother at the time of birth and is not listed on the birth certificate, he can apply for parental responsibility. Both parents must register the birth together at the register office or fill out a declaration of parentage form.

By agreement

Parents can agree to share parental responsibility through a formal agreement. Forms C(PRA1) for biological parents and C(PRA2) for step-parents can be obtained from the local court or downloaded and completed.

Court order

If the birth mother does not want the biological father to have parental responsibility, he can apply for a parental responsibility order through a C1 application sent to the family court. Unmarried male parents are typically granted parental responsibility unless there is a valid reason not to.

Contact arrangement order

A biological father may seek a contact arrangement order, granting parental responsibility while the child is in his care. However, parental responsibility is dependent on the duration of the contact arrangement.


Marrying the mother automatically grants parental responsibility to the biological father. The parents must also register the birth using form LA1.

For Married Civil Partners and Step-Parents

Step-parents do not automatically gain parental responsibility upon marrying or becoming civil partners with a child's parent. However, they can acquire parental responsibility through:

  • Parental Responsibility Agreement

  • Applying for a Parental Responsibility Order

  • Adoption

For Carers

Other caregivers who are not parents can take on parental responsibility by:

What happens when those with parental responsibility can’t agree?

When those with parental responsibility can't reach an agreement on major decisions concerning the child's future, such as relocating, schooling, or adoption, they can apply for a Specific Issue Order or Prohibited Steps Order. A judge will then decide what is best for the child in such cases.

Alternatively, family mediation can be used to resolve disputes and find a compromise. If an agreement cannot be reached, either or both parties can apply for a Prohibited Steps Order, which allows the court to make the decision, regardless of parental responsibility.

At Lawhive, our family law solicitors are here to assist parents with Child Arrangement Orders, child maintenance, and issues related to parental responsibility. Reach out to us today for a free case assessment with our legal assessment team.

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