What is Parental Responsibility?
Parents are automatically responsible for the wellbeing, development, education and safety of their children. This is called parental responsibility.
Parental responsibility is defined in the Family Law Act 1975 as:
“All the duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, parents have in relation to children.”
A key part of this responsibility is making decisions about children’s lives and futures.
Parental responsibility gives parents the power to make decisions about what are known as “major long-term issues.”
- The child’s current and future education
- The child’s health, especially medical procedures
- The child’s religious and cultural upbringing
- Changing the child’s name
- Authorising a travel document for the child
- Changing the child’s living arrangements in a way that makes it significantly harder for them to spend time with a parent
Unless it is not in the child’s best interests, the court works with the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility.
What is Equal Shared Parental Responsibility?
This means that parents make these major long-term decisions unanimously.
They are required to make a genuine effort to consult with each other and come to a consensus.
It is important to remember that parental responsibility is not the same as child custody.
For example, a child may live with one parent and only see their other parent on weekends.
These two parents have equal parental responsibility even though they do not see their child equally often.
They have exactly the same equal shared parental responsibility as a separated couple with a 50-50 shared custody split.
The amount of time a parent spends with their child does not change their duties under parental responsibility.
However, parental responsibility is subject to court orders.
In parenting disputes, the court can decide to change parental responsibility from being equal and shared to give one parent more control over major long-term decisions.
This is determined based on the child’s best interests.
In some cases, parents might have equal shared parental responsibility in all areas except for a single issue for which only one parent would have responsibility, for example the child’s education.
In other cases, one parent might be entirely given sole parental responsibility.
This means they are the only parent who can make decisions about the child. They do not need to consult with their former partner.
For example, as a separated parent you may have custody of your child, but you have equal shared parental responsibility with their other parent.
The child was given your former partner’s surname when they were born and now you wish to change their surname to your own.
As you have equal shared parental responsibility, this can only be done with the agreement of the other parent.
In a different example, you and your former partner may have equal custody and equal shared parental responsibility in all areas except for one.
It was decided in court that it was in your child’s best interests for you to have sole parental responsibility over their education and schooling.
You have chosen your child’s high school and do not need the other parent to agree.