Children Law

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Parental Responsibility

The basic principle of parental rights is based upon a concept which occurs frequently within Children Act proceedings, namely parental responsibility. Parental responsibility is the authority which gives parents the right to decide what is in the best interests of their child. Parental Responsibility is provided to the legal parents of a child and other individuals if there is an order of the court. 

The mother of the child will always have parental responsibility for the child by virtue of giving birth to the child.

However, the father will only acquire parental responsibility for the child without intervention of the Court if he is married to the mother at the time of the birth or subsequently or if he is named on the birth certificate as the father and the child’s birth is registered after 1 December 2003.

Arrangements for Children

After a separation, some parents disagree on what is best for their children. Disagreements about children can range from: who will they live with, when will they see each parent, how should holidays and special occasions such as birthdays be divided. 

At Simply Legal we can help you identify what you would like to achieve and help you reach a positive working arrangement for your children. We can help you reach an agreement whether informally or more formally through mediation.  The court will only need to be involved in deciding arrangements if you are unable to come to an agreement through negotiation. In the event the court does become involved they can make several different types of court orders.  These include: –

Specific Issue Order

This order is made when the court decides a particular issue in dispute, such as which school a child should attend.

Child Arrangements Order

This is an order that regulates who a child lives with, at what times, and who the child spends time with, including parents and other extended family. Before April 2014, these were known as residence and contact orders.

Prohibited Steps Order

An order of this type forbids a person from taking a particular action in relation to a child, such as taking them abroad.

Frequently Asked Question’s

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Is there a fixed rule about which parent a child should live with?

No. The court does not have a set of presumptions about who should be caring for children and who they should be living with. Each case is decided on its own merits and the court will be interested in one thing only: what is in the children’s best interests.

What rights do I have as a father if I’m not married to the mother of my child?

If the birth was registered or re-registered after 1 December 2003 and you are named on the birth certificate, you will have parental responsibility for the child. If the birth was registered before this date, then you do not have parental responsibility. 

However, you can acquire parental responsibility for the child in several ways:

  • If you marry the mother of the child
  • If you enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
  • If you obtain a parental responsibility order from the court
Can I automatically change my child’s surname after a separation?


There are two ways in which you can change the surname: –

  1. By completing a valid change of name deed
  2. By order of the court (specific issue order)

There are strict rules regarding who can change a child’s surname. If only one person has parental responsibility for a child, they can do so unless the court prohibits it. Where more than one person holds parental responsibility, a name change can only be done if everyone who holds parental responsibility provides their consent, and in default of that consent, an order of the court.

Even if a parent does not hold parental responsibility, they can make an application to the court for an order prohibiting any change by one parent with parental responsibility if they do not agree. If a change is made without the necessary permission – whether from the other parent or the court – the court can, and usually will, reverse the change and, in some circumstances, can impose costs orders in relation to the proceedings. It is therefore crucial to obtain legal advice beforehand.

The court considers a surname to be an integral part of a child’s identity and will closely scrutinise any application for a change. There is clear guidance set out in case law regarding when the court will and will not consider it to be in the interests of a child for their surname to be changed. This includes a careful consideration of how the child’s bonds with all of the adults involved in their life can best be respected and maintained. An application should never be made until all of the relevant factors have been carefully weighed up so that the likelihood of the application succeeding can be assessed.

Is it possible to keep the arrangements as friendly as possible and not involve the court?

Yes. You can opt for mediation.

Mediation is a voluntary process through which separating couples aim to work together to resolve issues in dispute

For many families, mediation offers a productive, non-confrontational way of dealing with disputes and is an alternative to the court process. A mediator is a specially trained professional, usually a family law solicitor, who is independent of both parties and acts as a facilitator in three-way meetings, rather than a decision-maker. 

It is a really important principle of the law relating to children that the court will not become involved in family life unless it needs to do so. 

In fact, in all but exceptional cases, the court will expect parents to have been to a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) before applying to court.

What happens if you cannot come to any agreement?

If an important process cannot be resolved within mediation or another non-court dispute resolution process, either party can make an application to the court. Even within the court process, judges will do their utmost to bring parents towards an agreed arrangement and avoid a contested hearing, if at all possible.

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