Parental responsibility as defined by the Children Act 1989 (amended by the Adoption and Children Act 2002) is defined as: “the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”. This means the right to make important decisions for a child such as what medical treatment they receive, the school they attend, their religion, where they live etc.

When changing a child’s name, it is vitally important that consent is obtained from everyone with parental responsibility. The mother and father (if married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth) will automatically have parental responsibility.

The law for unmarried fathers varies throughout the UK. The Adoption and Children 2002 received Royal Assent and so became law on 7th November 2002, but the specific provision relating to parental responsibility for unmarried fathers didn’t take effect until 1st December 2003.

In England & Wales, for births registered from the 1st December 2003 onwards, an unmarried father will have parental responsibility if he is jointly registered with the mother on the child’s birth certificate.

In Scotland, under the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, an unmarried father would have parental responsibility for births registered from 4th May 2006.

In Northern Ireland, the same is true since 15th April 2002, thanks to the Family Law Act (Northern Ireland) 2001.

It should be noted that unlike in Scotland, an unmarried father will not obtain parental responsibility by marrying the mother after the child’s birth.

Parental responsibility can also be obtained by way of a Parental Responsibility Order or Parental Responsibility Agreement.

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