Legal Parenthood and Parental Responsibility: what’s the difference?

Legal parenthood creates a life-long connection between the parents and the child. It can only be held by two individuals as it is intended to be held by the parents of the child. It carries its own responsibilities and rights such as the parents’ duty to financially maintain the child, inheritance rights for the child and citizenship. Legal parenthood is separate concept to parental responsibility and you can hold one or both under English law.

In 2019, people of all genders and relationship-types have the opportunity of becoming a parent whether through advances in technology or other methods such as adoption. Moving with the times, the family courts in England and Wales now recognise that legal parenthood can be formed from natural procreation, surrogacy, assisted reproduction and adoption.

Each way of achieving parenthood has its own unique laws governing it and if the laws are not followed correctly, you could be faced with a scenario where in the future the parent of a child is not deemed the legal parent causing problems with inheritance, citizenship or financial maintenance.

Parental responsibility (sometimes referred to as “PR”) is defined as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property” (Section 3(1) of the Children Act 1989). This allows a parent to make decisions about a child’s welfare although important decisions require the consent of all those with parental responsibility, for example choosing which school the child attends or whether they undergo medical treatment or not.

When all those with parental responsibility disagree on any important decision concerning a child, as a last resort, it may be necessary for a judge or arbitrator to make the final decision.

At Turner Nicholson, we deal with many children cases concerning these topics and are happy to advise if you require further information.  

By Charlotte Hayes-Sennett (Associate Solicitor) at the London office