Being a parent is a beautiful feeling. It takes hard work, patience, and, most importantly, unconditional love to raise a child. In marriage, parental responsibility is shared between both partners. These responsibilities include providing a safe environment for the child, catering to their basic needs, and guiding them on the right path. However, when a couple goes through a divorce, they have to demarcate their responsibilities towards the child legally. In such cases, the court grants certain legal rights, authority, and responsibilities over a child and their properties to the parents. Keep reading this post as we discuss parental responsibility, how it is shared between a couple, what happens in the case of a divorce, and how and when the responsibility ends.
What Is Parental Responsibility?
Parental responsibility is a set of rights and duties that a parent or a legal guardian has towards their children. Usually, parental responsibility includes both ‘parenting time’ and ‘decision making’.
When in a relationship, both the partners have equal parental responsibility towards their children, but when they get divorced, some responsibilities are shared while some are exclusively retained by one parent.
What Are Parental Rights?
As long as the child is a minor, the parents or legal custodians have the following rights in the US. However, these rights and responsibilities may vary from state to state.
- Child custody: It can be divided into two aspects, legal and physical:
- Legal custody decides the right to make decisions regarding the health, education, and welfare of the child.
- Physical custody decides where the child will live.
In the case of divorce or legal separation, the custody can be mutually decided or is decided by the court taking into consideration the best interests of the child. In some cases, the court can also assign custody to grandparents or others when both the parents are not fit for it.
- Visitation: Both the parents have a right to maintain contact with the child, meet them and build a bond with them.
- Inheritance: The right to pass on the property to the child as an inheritance or as a gift. The rights also include access to the child’s earnings and inheritance in the case of the child’s untimely death.
Along with the rights, the law requires the parents to meet their responsibilities towards the child.
What Are Parental Responsibilities?
Here are the specific responsibilities that the parents or legal guardians must fulfill.
- Provide an environment that is safe and free of any physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
- Provide your child with basic needs such as nutritious food, shelter, clothing, and medical care.
- Nurture the child’s self-esteem needs, such as accepting them for who they are, and encouraging and supporting them to grow in life.
- Teach moral values such as honesty, responsibility, patience, etc., and correct them when they go wrong.
- Respect their feelings, opinions, and individuality.
- Take an interest in their education and spend quality time to help them meet their goals in life.
A parent’s responsibilities cannot be limited. The mother and the father are responsible for every aspect of the child’s life until the child reaches a certain age.
Who Has Parental Responsibility?
US law has two rules to determine parental responsibility:
- The biological parents are the first to have parental responsibility. All birth mothers automatically get the responsibility (1), whereas the father only gets it if he is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth.
- The law recognizes only one set of parents for parental responsibility. For example, after adoption, the biological parents lose all their rights on the child.
A few exceptions are:
- If the child was born before the couple got into the relationship, the mother will have the parental rights while the father has to apply to the court for joint parental responsibility.
- If the mother is a minor at the time of childbirth, a guardian is appointed for the child, and once the mother becomes a major, she can get parental responsibility.
- An unmarried man can accept parental responsibility by marrying the mother and being named as the father in the certificate.
- When the parents are unfit or dead, the parental responsibility is given to the grandparents (if they volunteer) or to a certified agency.
A parent’s responsibilities are the highest when the child is an infant. Gradually, the child grows to a stage where they no more need support and they become independent. Legally, this happens at a certain age.
When Does Parental Responsibility End?
Parental responsibility ends when the child attains the age of 18, but this can vary from state to state. The responsibilities might extend beyond 18 years if the child has any physical or mental disabilities.
In some cases, parental responsibility ends even before the child is 18 years old. Such instances include:
- The child has married or entered a registered partnership before attaining 18 years.
- There are disputes in the marriage.
- The child is subjected to neglect or abuse.
- The father, who has obtained parental responsibility through a petition, will lose it if a specific order discharges it.
- The child is given up for adoption, in which case the responsibility gets transferred to the adopting parents.
While the responsibility ends in the above cases, in some cases the parents or guardians can lose or let go of it.
When Can A Parent Lose Parental Responsibility?
There are instances where a parent can lose custody and responsibility of their children either voluntarily or involuntarily.
- Voluntary termination: The parent decides to give up the responsibility of the child. This is likely to happen when parents decide to get their child adopted or when the child is born to a minor mother. This voluntary termination can be done by surrendering their parental responsibility to a registered adoption agency or by choosing the adoptive parents (2).
- Involuntary termination: When there is a threat to the child’s welfare and life, the court can terminate parental responsibility. This is known as involuntary termination. The grounds for involuntary termination may vary from state to state. However, here are some of the common grounds for involuntary termination of parental responsibility:
- Chronic abuse or neglect
- Abandonment of the child
- Long-term mental illness of the parent or the parent is determined unfit of taking care of the child
- Long-term alcohol or drug abuse by the parents
- Inability to provide the basic needs and financial support to children
- Felony or imprisonment of the parent
Once it is determined that the parent is unfit to take up parental responsibility, the child is rescued by the child welfare system. In such cases, the parents do not lose their responsibility immediately. The child welfare system takes necessary steps to preserve the family and reunite them through services such as parenting classes, substance abuse treatment or family therapy.
While the parents undergo these services, the child is kept either with a foster family or a foster home. Once the court is convinced the family is safe for the child, it might reunite them. If not, the court will legally terminate their parental responsibility. In certain extreme cases, the court also has the authority to terminate the responsibility immediately.
What Happens To Parental Responsibility In The Case Of A Divorce?
In the case of a divorce, parental responsibility of minor children can be mutually decided by the couple. Otherwise, the court takes the decision while considering the best interests of the child.
There are four types of child custody in cases of divorce:
- Sole physical custody: In this type, the child shall reside with one parent but the legal custody rests with both the parents. Therefore, they must prepare a parenting plan and get it approved by the court. The other parent is then given visitation rights.
- Joint physical custody: Here the child spends time under the supervision of both the parents. This custody works well when the parents share mutual respect and friendship for each other.
- Sole legal custody: Only one parent has the authority to take all the important decisions regarding the child. Usually, physical custody also rests with the same parent. If the other parent is abusive, then the court can restrict them from having any contact with the child.
- Joint legal custody: Both parents have a say in the decision making regarding the child. Parents can share legal custody even if they do not share physical custody.
Matters regarding child support can also be decided mutually, or the court shall decide after taking into consideration the financial situation of both the parents.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How long does it take to get a court order for parental responsibility?
Since the parental responsibility and child custody laws in the US differ for each state, the timeframe to receive a court order depends on the laws in your state of residence.
2. Can parental responsibility be transferred?
Yes. When your child is given to new parents for adoption, the parental responsibility of the biological parents ends and is transferred to the adopted parents.
Parenthood is a beautiful journey that’s not easy, but it’s worthwhile. When you become a parent, a sense of responsibility instinctively develops. You do everything necessary to take care of your child and their happiness. However, when parents are unable to meet their child’s basic physical, emotional, or social needs or are divorcing, the law steps in. These laws protect and secure the child’s interests in the case of any disturbance in parental responsibilities. They also assist parents in rethinking and reworking their relationship in order to maintain a happy and healthy parent-child relationship.
Infographic: How To Effectively Fulfill Parental Responsibilities?
Being a responsible parent may not be easy, but it’s definitely rewarding. To help you with it, we bring practical tips you can follow to ensure you are effectively fulfilling all your parental responsibilities. Read through and share with fellow parents to help sail smoothly through parenting.
- Parental responsibilities include various important rights and duties towards your child.
- You must be aware of the legalities and duration of the various responsibilities that are conceived to safeguard your child’s future.
- Continue reading to learn more about the legal principles and rules governing parental obligations and how they are handled in the event of a divorce.
2. Consent to adoption; Child Welfare Information Gateway; Children’s Bureau.
3. Overview of Terminating Parental Rights; Family Law Self-Help Center