Children on Separation


Parental responsibility (“PR”) is defined as "all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property by law".

In practical terms, those with PR are able to make decisions about the child's property and welfare (including but not limited to religious upbringing, accommodation, education and medical treatment). Problems can occur when there are two people with parental responsibility and they disagree about some of these issues.

Every day decisions such as the activities a child undertakes, how a child spends their time, and routine medical check-ups can be carried out by one person with parental responsibility.

Other decisions can be taken by one person with PR but they must notify the others with PR. For example, medical treatment in an emergency, planned visits to a general or nurse practitioner and the reasons for this, changes of address within the local area that do not disrupt contact arrangements nor require a change of school, changes in living arrangements, including a change to those who are or will be living in the same household.

However, some decisions have to be made in consultation with all holders of PR. Some examples are:

  • Selection of the school that the child is to attend, including making school admission applications,
  • Applications for authorised absence from school and reasons for this,
  • Planned medical and dental treatment beyond routine check-ups,
  • Deciding the child's religious upbringing,
  • Circumcision,
  • Immunisation,
  • Stopping prescribed medication for the child,
  • Change of the child's surname,
  • Relocation to another part of England and Wales or overseas,

A person who does not have PR but who has care of a child can do what is reasonable in all the circumstances to safeguard or promote the child's welfare. For example, this allows a babysitter to deal with a medical emergency.


Who has parental responsibility? A child's mother will always have PR for her child. If a child's parents are married when he is born, both of them automatically have PR.

If the parents are not married when the child is born, only the mother automatically has PR. The father can acquire PR if he:

  • Marries the mother and he is domiciled in England and Wales when the marriage takes place.

  • Enters into a Parental Responsibility agreement with the mother and files it at the Principal Registry of the Family Division of the High Court (PRFD). For a Parental Responsibility Agreement form between a mother and the father see Form C PRA(1):

  • Obtains a court order giving him PR.

  • Is named in a child arrangements order (CAO) as a person with whom the child is to live. When the court makes a CAO naming the father as a person with whom the child lives, it must also make a PR order.

  • Is named in a CAO as a person with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact and the court decides that it would be appropriate to make a PR order in his favour.

  • Is registered as the child's father on a register of births in the UK. This requires the mother's consent and applies only if the child was born on or after 1 December 2003.

  • Becomes the child's guardian.

  • Adopts the child.

For more details on parental responsibility and what happens when those with parental responsibility cannot agree, see our section on children.



  • the child is living in the UK,

  • the paying parent is resident in the UK or overseas but on government service or employed by a UK based company,

  • The child is younger than 20, not in work, and still in secondary education (not at university),

  • The paying parent is the legal parent of that child,

  • Any order for child maintenance is over 12 months old.

Either parent may apply to the Child Maintenance Service for an assessment of the maintenance that the paying parent should pay to the receiving parent.

You do not have to apply to the Child Maintenance Service – it is perfectly acceptable to agree arrangements, but the amount you agree on will not then be binding.

For more details on child maintenance orders, see our section on children.


If you cannot afford a lawyer, you have the following options:

a) Legal aid

Legal aid is only available in very limited circumstances. It will only be available for divorce proceedings if you can prove that there has been domestic violence or there is a risk of such violence. You can follow this link for more information:

b) Legal services orders

This is an order by the court that one party pays the other a sum of money to help cover their legal fees. The court will only make such an order where all other avenues have been explored. The costs of making this application need to be borne in mind.

c) Bank loans

It is possible to get loans from certain banks to help pay your legal fees, for example

Iceberg Client Credit

d) Acting in person

It is possible to act in person, that is, without a lawyer, perhaps taking limited advice at various stages of the process. LexSnap can help.

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