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The Children Act 1989, a landmark piece of legislation in the United Kingdom, brought about significant changes in the legal framework concerning children’s welfare and rights. Perhaps one of the most critical aspects of this Act is the concept of parental responsibility, a term that outlines the rights, duties, powers, and responsibilities that parents have in relation to their children.


Defining ‘parental responsibility’

Parental responsibility is defined in Section 3(1) of the Children Act 1989 as “all the rights, duties, powers and responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.


It encompasses various aspects of a child’s life, including but not limited to education, medical treatment, religious upbringing, and general welfare.


Do I automatically have parental responsibility for my child?

The Act outlines the individual who automatically acquires parental responsibility upon a child’s birth. That is:

  1. Mothers;
  2. Fathers (if married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth);
  3. Fathers who have acquired parental responsibility through a subsequent marriage or by way of a parental responsibility or court order;
  4. Fathers who are named on the child’s birth certificate after 1 December 2003.

Others may acquire parental responsibility including step-parents, guardians, and those with a residence or special guardianship order.

In some cases, the court may also grant parental responsibility to individuals other than the child’s biological or adoptive parents.


Exercising parental responsibility

Persons with parental responsibility are expected to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing and well-being. This includes decisions about the child’s education, medical treatment and religious upbringing.

In situations where persons with parental responsibility are unable to reach an agreement, they may seek the intervention of the court to resolve the dispute. On those occasions, the court’s paramount consideration is the welfare of the child, and it may issue specific orders or directions to address the issues at hand.



Parental responsibility under the Children Act 1989 is a cornerstone in safeguarding the welfare of children in the United Kingdom. It establishes a critical framework for parents, guardians and other individuals who have parental responsibility to collaborate and make major decisions that prioritise the welfare of the child.


This blog post is not intended to be taken as advice or acted upon. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our team of solicitors.

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Zubair Dharamsi

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Clothilde Uy

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Marie-Cecilia Ferreira