0–18 years: guidance for all doctors
References to ‘parents’ in this guidance usually mean those with parental responsibility for the child or young person in question.
Parental responsibility means the rights and responsibilities that parents have in law for their child, including the right to consent to medical treatment for them, up to the age of 18 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and 16 in Scotland.
Mothers and married fathers have parental responsibility. So do unmarried fathers of children registered since 15 April 2002 in Northern Ireland, since 1 December 2003 in England and Wales and since 4 May 2006 in Scotland, as long as the father is named on the child’s birth certificate.
Unmarried fathers whose children's births were registered before these dates, or afterwards if they are not named on the child’s birth certificate, do not automatically have parental responsibility. They can acquire parental responsibility by way of a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the child’s mother or by getting a Parental Responsibility Order from the courts. Married step-parents and registered civil partners can acquire parental responsibility in the same ways.
Parents do not lose parental responsibility if they divorce. If a child is taken into local authority care parents share parental responsibility with the local authority. Parents lose parental responsibility if a child is adopted. Parental responsibility can be restricted by court order.
Adoptive parents have parental responsibility, as do those appointed as a child’s testamentary guardian, special guardian or those given a residence order. Local authorities have parental responsibility while a child is subject to a care order.
You may need to get legal advice when in doubt about who has parental responsibility. The only parental responsibility that continues until 18 in Scotland is the provision of guidance to the child (see s.1(1)(b)(ii) and s.1(2)(b) Children (Scotland) Act 1995). The Act refers to parental rights and responsibilities (PRR); reference to parental responsibilities in this guidance means PRR in Scotland.
People without parental responsibility, but who have care of a child, may do what is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. This may include step-parents, grandparents and childminders. You can rely on their consent if they are authorised by the parents. But you should make sure that their decisions are in line with those of the parents, particularly in relation to contentious or important decisions.