Caring for Children

If you need to be given legal authority to enable you to properly look after a child in your care, and make decisions relating to that child, then we can support you and help you to get apply for that legal authority from the courts.

Official responsibility for children in your care

If you have a child in your care but don’t have official parental responsibility for them, you can apply for it to be granted by the courts.  Having parental responsibility will allow you to make decisions about things such as education and religion.

Find out more about parental responsibility here

Special Guardianship Order

If a child is being looked after by someone other than parents, for example grandparents, it might be appropriate to appoint a special guardian.  These people have the power to override the decisions made by others with parental responsibility. 

Find out more about special guardianship orders here

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Who has parental responsibility?

A mother automatically has parental responsibility. The mother shares parental responsibility with the father if she is married to him at the time of the child’s birth.

How can a father get parental responsibility?

  • Marry or enter a civil partnership with the child’s mother
  • Enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother and file it at the Central Family Court
  • Obtain a court order giving him parental responsibility
  • Obtain a court order known as a child arrangements order where he is named as a person with whom the child is to live
  • Obtain a child arrangements order where he is a person with whom the child is to spend time with and the court decides that it would be appropriate to make a PR order in his favour
  • Obtain registration as the child's father on a register of births in the UK.  Registration as father requires the mother's consent and applies only if the child was born on or after 1 December 2003. A person who is not the child's biological parent or a parent by operation of law, will not acquire parental responsibility by being named on the child's birth certificate.
  • Become the child's guardian
  • Adopt the child

Who else can obtain parental responsibility?

Two female parents

Where a child is born by fertility treatment given on or after 6 April 2009, they may have two female parents. The woman who carried the child is treated as the mother and has parental responsibility in the same way as any other mother. A second female parent is treated in a similar way to a father. She has parental responsibility automatically if she was the mother's same-sex spouse or civil partner at the time of the fertility treatment and consented to the treatment. If she is a second female parent, she can get parental responsibility in the same way as an unmarried father.

Step-parents

A step-parent can obtain parental responsibility for a child if they are married to, or are the civil partner of, a parent of the child who has parental responsibility, and they do either of the following:

  • Enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the parent (if only that parent has it) or both parents (if both parents have it), and file it with the central family court
  • Obtain a court order giving them parental responsibility.

 A step-parent can also obtain parental if they are named as either of the following in a child arrangements order

  • A person with whom the child is to live. The court will automatically make a parental order in favour of the step-parent, for as long as the child arrangements order is in place
  • A person with whom the child is to spend time or have contact but not live with. In these circumstances, the court may provide for the step-parent to have parental responsibility in the order but this is not automatic. If granted, parental responsibility will remain in place while the step-parent is named in the child arrangements order.

Can anyone else have parental responsibility?

Someone else can have parental responsibility if they fall into any of the categories below.

  • Adopt the child. This is because adopted children are treated as if they had been born to married parents.
  • Become the child's guardian.
  • Obtains a child arrangements order naming them as a person with whom the child is to live. In this case, the individual:
    • automatically has parental responsibility but only while the child arrangements order remains in force;
    • cannot make decisions about whether the child should be adopted; and
    • cannot appoint a guardian for the child.
  • Obtains a child arrangement order naming him as a person with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact but not live with, and the court decides to make a parental responsibility order in their favour. As above, the individual:
    • has PR only while the child arrangements order remains in force;
    • cannot make decisions about whether the child should be adopted; and
    • cannot appoint a guardian for the child.
  • A local authority has parental responsibility for a child who is the subject of a care order. Its parental responsibility is subject to the same restrictions as that of an individual who is named as a person with whom the child is to live in a child arrangements order and, additionally, it cannot cause the child to be brought up in a religious persuasion that they would not otherwise have been brought up.
  • A person may also have parental responsibility temporarily if they obtain an emergency protection order from the court to protect the child from significant harm.

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What is a Special Guardianship Order?

A special guardianship order appoints a person or persons as a child's special guardian.

It gives a special kind of parental responsibility and allows this person to override any other person with parental responsibility from decisions about the child’s welfare, for example decisions about schooling. 

How long does Special Guardianship Order last?

A special guardianship order lasts until a child reaches the age of 18 unless discharged by the court.

Are there any restrictions on the Special Guardian?

A special guardian cannot do the following unless they have the permission of every person with parental responsibility or an order of the court:

  • Change the child's surname.
  • Remove the child from the jurisdiction for a period of three months or more.

What about those with Parental Responsibilities?

Despite the overriding power that Special Guardians have, parents and others with parental responsibility should be consulted on issues such as internal UK relocation and major medical procedures.

What happens if people with Parental Responsibilities don't agree?

Parents or those with parental responsibility can bring an application for a specific issue order to the court to challenge a special guardian’s decision.

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