How do I obtain parental responsibility for the child I am caring for?

Information about parental responsibility and how it can be obtained.

If you are caring for a child on behalf of a relative or close family friend because they are unable to, you are defined as a kinship carer. Grandparents are the most common kinship carers, but older siblings, aunts, uncles, and people who know the child well can also take on this role. As a kinship carer, you do not automatically have parental responsibility for the child you are caring for.

What is parental responsibility?

Any person with parental responsibility has a duty to:

  • provide a home for the child
  • protect and maintain the child
  • discipline the child
  • choose and provide for the child’s education
  • agree to the child’s medical treatment
  • look after the child’s property

Who has parental responsibility?

A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth. A father usually has parental responsibility if he’s either:

  • married to the child’s mother
  • listed on the child’s birth certificate (after a certain date, depending on which part of the UK the child was born)

Can I apply for parental responsibility as a grandparent, close relative or friend of the family?

Yes – there are two main types of legal order you can apply for which will give you parental responsibility:

You will need to make an application to the court.

You have the right to apply to the family court for a legal order if:

  • you are the child’s grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother, or sister (including by half blood, marriage or civil partnership) or stepparent, and the child has lived with you for at least a year
  • you are a guardian of the child who was appointed by the parent or special guardian to look after the child after they died
  • you are a local authority foster carer, who has had the child placed with you for at least a year, or
  • you are not related, and the child has lived with you for at least three years out of the last five

You can also apply if you have the consent of:

  • anyone who already holds a residence order or child arrangements order for the child
  • the local authority, if the child is in their care, or
  • everyone else who holds parental responsibility

If any of the circumstances mentioned above do not apply to you, you can still make an application to the court. You would initially need to apply for “leave” which means you need to ask the court’s permission to apply for a legal order first.

It’s important to get legal advice so that you understand all of your options and can make informed decisions.

How does the court make a decision?

If you make an application to the court, when deciding where the child should live, the judge will use the Welfare Checklist set out in the Children’s Act 1989 to make their decision.

Each case is determined based upon the specific child’s welfare which is paramount. The court will not make an order unless it is necessary and deemed appropriate.

What applying for a legal order means for the parents

Special guardianship orders and child arrangement orders leave existing family relationships intact, meaning that the birth mother and father are still legally the parents.

Special guardians are entitled to exercise their parental responsibility to the exclusion of any other person with parental responsibility. This means that a special guardian makes the final decisions about a child – for example, what school they should go to or whether they should receive medical treatment. The mother and/or father of the child cannot overrule a special guardian.

Although a special guardian has enhanced parental responsibility, they will still need the consent of other people with parental responsibility (such as the child’s mother or father) in some situations, for example if they wish to remove the child from the country for more than three months or to change the child’s surname. You can find more examples on GOV.UK.

If caring for a child under a child arrangements order, you share parental responsibility with the child’s parents until they are 18 years old, unless the family court states otherwise. You will make most everyday decisions for the child, such as whether they go on school trips or need medical treatment. But unlike a special guardianship order, you will need to get consent from the child’s parents or anyone else with parental responsibility to make major decisions about their care.

Support from Kinship

Here at Kinship, we offer a range of free support for all kinship carers, including workshops, online advice and information, and peer support groups.

Contact our advice service to speak to an adviser or book an appointment.