The concept of ‘parental responsibility’ relates to how long-term decisions are made for a child. Examples of long-term decisions include what school the child will go to, what religion the child is brought up in, and decisions about major medical procedures.
Without a court order in place, both parents have parental responsibility. This means that each parent is able to make long-term decisions about the child. However, if one parent makes a decision which the other parent does not agree with, it may be necessary to apply to the court to resolve the dispute.
The court is able to make orders about how long-term decisions should be made. Most commonly, the court will order that parents have ‘equal shared parental responsibility’. This means that each parent has the ability to make long-term decisions about their child, but that they must agree about those decisions with each other. Sometimes, the court may order that one parent have the ability to make long-term decisions about several key issues, but that parental responsibility is equal for all other long-term issues.
Generally, the court will not make such an order if parents have shown that they are not able to co-parent effectively. In such a circumstance, the court may order that one parent have ‘sole parental responsibility’. This means that only one parent will have the ability to make long-term decisions about the child, with no requirement that the other parent be consulted. The court will most often grant sole parental responsibility to the child’s primary carer. The non-resident parent will still have the ability to make day-to-day decisions about the child’s welfare when the child is spending time with the non-resident parent, but they will have no ability to make long-term decisions about the child.