Parental responsibility is a legal right held by the parents of a child. It includes the responsibility of providing a home for that child and the duty to protect and maintain the child. Parents with parental responsibility must decide on where the child is to be educated and are entitled to make decisions about any medical treatment that they may require. They may also name the child and change the name if necessary.

Step parents do no automatically obtain parental responsibility of a child. They must obtain a Residence Order from the Court. This Order gives the step parent parental responsibility and says that the child should live with the step parent.

In order to apply for a Residence Order, consent is needed from those that already have parental responsibility for the child. Parental responsibility will not be taken away from the parents that already have it, but it will be shared amongst three people instead of two. This may cause conflict between the parties involved and applying to the Court may not be the best option in this case.

If consent of those with parental responsibility is not forthcoming, you can still apply to the Court for a Residence Order if the child in question has lived with you for 3 out of the last 5 years, including the 3 months running up to you making the application.

Applying to the Court will involve completing an application form and attending a Hearing. If the Court is happy with your application and has no concerns, they will grant the Residence Order at the Hearing. If the Court is not happy, they may order a Welfare Report to be prepared by CAFCASS, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, and this may involve the children and those with parental responsibility being interviewed. The Court will then make a decision although it is important to note that any recommendation made by CAFCASS is likely to be followed by the Court.

If the Residence Order is successfully granted, you will have parental responsibility. This lasts either until the child reaches the age of 18 or the Court Order comes to an end.

If you would like more information about the subject matter covered in this article or on any other Family Law matter, please contact Elizabeth Leah, Samantha Jago, Julian McEvoy or Catherine Withers on 01483 302000 or e-mail family@rhw.co.uk