The Legal Implications of Parental Responsibility
The term ‘Parental Responsibility’ is defined in the legislation as follows: “parental responsibility in relation to a child means all the duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law parents have in relation to children.”
By taking this meaning, parents do not have any rights with respect to a child, only responsibilities, as it is the child who has rights.
Parental responsibility is essentially the authority and ability to make decisions necessary to ensure a child’s needs are met. Both parents automatically have parental responsibility for a child from birth. This can be overridden by court order or agreement. Parental responsibility does not change if the parents separate.
Parental responsibility can be broken down into ‘day to day’ decisions and ‘long term’ decisions. Parents do not need to consult each other on day to day issues such as what the child should eat that day or what activities they should engage in. Each parent may make quite different day to day decisions and this should be respected. Long term decisions are different and parents are required to discuss and reach agreement on these issues. They include but are not limited to the following:
- where the child lives;
- what medical treatment they should receive;
- the child’s education;
- the child’s religious or cultural upbringing;
- the child’s name;
- the protection of the child from harm; and
Generally, when orders are made by the court, they will include an order for ‘equal shared parental responsibility’. Such an order requires that the parents discuss and reach agreement regarding any decisions made with respect to the child and their longer-term wellbeing.
In cases where parents cannot reach agreement the court will sometimes allocate sole parental responsibility to one parent or sole parental responsibility with respect to limited issues such as medical decisions. The court will also grant sole parental responsibility to one parent only if the other parent suffers from a parental incapacity.