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What is meant by parental responsibility?

If you are a regular listener of BBC Radio 4’s show, ‘The Archers’ you may be wondering why Rob Titchenor, he who likes to control everything, is so keen to become the “proper Daddy” of Henry Archer (the son of his wife Helen who was born as a result of IVF treatment with an anonymous donor) and why Helen appears to be much less enthusiastic.

Many people would wrongly assume that as soon as Rob and Helen married, Rob would have “rights” over Henry. In fact, what Rob is seeking to gain is the parental responsibility for his step-son. Helen already has this as she gave birth to Henry.

What does parental responsibility mean?

Parental responsibility means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property by law. This person stands in the shoes of a parent when caring for a child or making decisions for a child e.g. about the child’s education and medical treatment. However, a person with parental responsibility may not automatically have an obligation to provide for the child financially although some people without parental responsibility do.

For a step-parent to acquire parental responsibility they either have to adopt the child (a lengthy procedure involving social services) or obtain a court order giving them parental responsibility or they can enter into an agreement with the parent or parents who already have parental responsibility for the child. Once such an agreement is registered with the Principal Registry of the Family Division the step-parent has parental responsibility for the child named in the agreement until the child is 18.

In The Archers, Rob seems particularly excited by the concept of the agreement, as he told Helen, they don’t have to go through the background checks that would be necessary if he were to adopt Henry and as Henry doesn’t have a father they can just turn up with their passports and Henry’s birth certificate and sign the agreement.

Whilst most step-parents entering into this type of agreement only want the best for the children involved, many fans of the long-running radio show are not convinced that Rob’s motives are so pure.

If you have any Family Law queries, please contact our Family Law team on 01332 340 211.

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