What The Archers tells us about parental responsibility

When it comes to family law, I think a lot can be learned by using The Archers as a starting point: break ups, civil partnerships, fertility issues, coercive control, domestic abuse, surrogacy, child contact arrangements – they, and more, have all been covered at one time or another. One current storyline involves pregnant Pip Archer; the father is her ex-boyfriend, Toby Fairbrother.  He initially wanted nothing to do with the baby but, after turning up to Pip’s Aqua Fit class this week and offering to help out with the cows, who knows . . . No doubt, the next few months will bring plenty of opportunities to highlight various issues around co-parenting arrangements or, possibly even, cohabitation but the one that struck me initially (especially when Toby said he wanted no role in the child’s life) was parental responsibility. 

As the biological mother, Pip will automatically have parental responsibility for her child.  The Children Act 1989 tells us that parental responsibility means “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”. In practical terms, having parental responsibility means being able to have a say in important decisions about how the child will be brought up.  For separated couples, the day-to-day decisions are usually made by the parent with whom the child lives most of the time but the “big” decisions overs schooling, medical treatment, religion or taking the child abroad need to be made in agreement with all those who have parental responsibility.  

Toby, despite being the biological father, because he is not married to Pip, he will not gain parental responsibility automatically.  It would make no difference if they were cohabiting – it is the fact that they are unmarried that causes the problems.  In order to get parental responsibility, because the birth is taking place after 2003, the easiest way would be for Toby to be named on the child’s birth certificate.   However, in case things don’t run smoothly and Pip does not agree to that, there are a few other options open to him if he does decide he wants to be involved in the child’s life: 

•    Toby and Pip enter into a Parental Responsibility Agreement
•    Toby applies for a court order that he should have parental responsibility
•    Toby marries Pip
•    Toby is named in a child arrangements order 

The family lawyers at Mills & Reeve have lots of experience in advising parents when parental responsibility becomes an issue, as well as on co-parenting arrangements.  So, if you are finding yourself in the same situation as Pip and Toby and want to know more, get in touch with one of our specialists.  

Kris Arpon