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We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

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What is parental responsibility and when do fathers have, or get, it?

The law says that parental responsibility is:

‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority, which by law a parent has in relation to the child…’. This is explained in section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989.

A person who has parental responsibility can make important decisions about their child’s life. This includes:

  • Providing a home for their child
  • Protecting and caring for their child
  • Agreeing to their child having medical or dental treatment.

Mothers have parental responsibility from the moment their child is born. This is not true for all fathers though. But there are six different ways that a father may have or get parental responsibility.

Our infographic below explains more:

So, some fathers will have parental responsibility already because of marriage. Or because they are named on their child’s birth certificate. Other fathers can get parental responsibility in the ways shown in the picture. The best option will depend on the precise situation. The starting point is finding out what is agreed by the child’s mother. Click on the dropdowns below for information about each.

Where there is agreement

If the child’s mother agrees to a birth father having parental responsibility there are three options.

Jointly re-register the birth with the mother (section 4(1)(a) Children Act 1989)

If the child’s mother agrees to the father having parental responsibility, the father can jointly apply to re-register the child’s birth so the fathers name and details are added to the birth certificate. The effect of this would be to give the father parental responsibility.

To do this complete Form GRO 185 to apply to re-register a child’s birth and add the natural father’s details.

Re-register the birth alone following statutory declaration by the mother

The father can ask the mother to sign a statutory declaration and then he will be able to go and re-register the birth alone. This can be done where it is not possible for both parents to go. Once the birth is registered the father will then have parental responsibility.

The forms to complete to do this will be:

Sign a parental responsibility agreement (section 4(1)(b) Children Act 1989)

The mother and father can fill in a parental responsibility agreement form.  This is called Form C(PRA1). This is called a parental responsibility agreement form.

The form is available from any Family Court office. Or it can be downloaded from the court service website here.

These points explain what is involved and include some tips for parents too:

  • A separate form must be filled in for each child
  • Use black ink to fill in the form
  • Once the form is filled in BOTH parents need to take the form to a local Family Court
  • Make sure you have the child’s birth certificate and take this to the court too
  • Each parent needs to take to the court proof of their identity. This needs to show their photo and their signature. This could be a passport or driving licence for example
  • Ask for someone at the court to witness each parent sign the form. And to then sign the form themselves (the part called certificate of the witness)
  • Any of the following people at the court can do this: a Justice of the Peace, a Justices’ Clerk , a court official who is authorised by the judge to administer oaths to witness your signatures.

When the certificate has been signed and witnessed then:

  • Make two copies of the Agreement
  • Keep a copy for your own record
  • Send the original form with certificate of witness signed to the Central Family Court so that the agreement can be recorded by the court. address of the Central Family Court is on the form. The address is: The Central Family Court, First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6NP.
  • The Central Family Court will record the Agreement and keep the original. The copies will be stamped and returned to each parent at the addresses given on the Agreement. The Agreement will not take effect until it has been recorded at Central Family Court.

Where there is no agreement

Applying for a parental responsibility order

If the child’s mother does not agree, the father can look at applying to the Family Court for a parental responsibility order. This is an application made under (section 4(1)(c) of the Children Act 1989).

The application must be made on the correct court form and with the correct fee:

  • The form to complete is a Form C1 application. The form needs to explain to the court why an application is being made
  • Once the form is complete, it needs to be sent to your local family court.
  • The fee to apply for a parental responsibility order is £215
  • It maybe possible to get help with the court fee if you are on benefits or a low income. Information about that is available here.

Important note: But when someone wants to apply for a parental responsibility order they usually must first meet with a mediator. This is to discuss whether mediation may be a suitable way of resolving their case. And a court form about mediation must be completed and sent to the Family Court at the same time as applying to the Family Court for a parental responsibility order.

See the next drop down for information about mediation, the mediation form and exemptions that may apply.

Meeting with a mediator before applying for an order

The meeting with a mediator is called a mediation, information and assessment meeting or MIAM. This type of meeting must usually must take place before someone can make an application to the Family Court for a parental responsibility order.

Usually, someone who wants to apply for a parental responsibility order has to confirm to the Family Court that they have met with a mediator. This is shown by the mediator signing a form. This ‘FM1’ form is then sent in with the court forms which are used to apply for the order. Information on how to find a family mediator may be obtained from here:

When a meeting with a mediator does not have to take place - exemptions

Where a case is urgent, or where there has been domestic abuse or child protection concerns, the person applying for the order may not have to go to mediation first.

To rely on an exemption for not attending a MIAM:

  • Confirm on the FM1 form what exemption applies and
  • Confirm on the form what type of evidence there is about this.

This can be done by ticking the boxes that apply to your situation in section 2 of the form.  The actual evidence does not need to be sent in with the FM1 form or the main C100 application form. But it will need to be provided to the Family Court at the first hearing.

Open or download this table to see the different mediation exemptions and how they must be evidenced.

What does the Family Court have to take into account when deciding whether to make a parental responsibility order?

When the Family Court makes any decision relating to a child, the child’s welfare must always be the court’s ‘paramount consideration’. This is known as the welfare principle. Or the paramountcy principle.  It means the court needs to think what is in the child’s best interests when it makes decisions (see section 1 (1) of the Children Act 1989. This all applies where the court is deciding an application for a parental responsibility order.

To help work out what is in a child’s best interests, the court must use the welfare checklist. This is set out at section 1 (3) of the Children Act 1989.  Read more about welfare checklist here.

When the Family court is deciding whether a father should have a parental responsibility order it has to presume the involvement of the father in the child’s life is a good for the child (‘will further their welfare’) unless:

  • there is evidence to suggest involvement with the child would put the child at risk of suffering harm
  • and this would be the case, whatever the form of the involvement.

The law about parental involvement is found in section 1(2A) of the Children Act 1989.

The information above does not apply to step-fathers.  Step-fathers looking for information about parental responsibility should see our  Is there any way a stepfather can get parental responsibility for a child? page.

For an overview of the different people who may have, or be able to get, parental responsibility for a child open or download our Parental responsibility – quick facts guide to parental responsibility.

It includes a table showing who has parental responsibility. And the ways different people can obtain it. It also answers from questions about:

  • Whether parental responsibility can come to an end
  • Decision making and parental responsibility
  • Limits to parental responsibility, and
  • Taking a child abroad.
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