What is Parental Responsibility?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 15 February 2020
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The term parental responsibility can refer to the key roles a parent plays in a child’s life, laws regarding the minimum level of care a parent is expected to give a child, or a parent’s accountability for his child’s behavior. In most jurisdictions, parents are expected to provide their children with age-appropriate supervision, adequate shelter, nutritious food, clothing, and medical care as needed. Though laws may not always dictate such things, parents are typically responsible for providing discipline and deciding what role religion will play in a child’s life as well. Additionally, parents are usually responsible for ensuring that their children are educated and stay out of trouble with the law.

In many jurisdictions, a mother has parental responsibility for a child as soon as he is born. This means she is expected to care for his physical needs and provide shelter. If she willfully neglects the child’s needs, she may be charged with neglect. In some cases, this may result in the removal of the child from her home. Most people also agree that a parent has a responsibility to care for the emotional needs of a child as well, though this may be harder to enforce legally.


Different jurisdictions may have varied laws when it comes to the parental responsibility of a father. In some jurisdictions, a man is only considered legally responsible for a child if he marries the mother at some point. By this definition, a man may be legally responsible for a child who was born out of wedlock if he marries the child’s mother after the child was born. If a man has a child out of wedlock, however, many jurisdictions consider him legally responsible if he admits he’s the child’s father, is proven to be the child’s father via a paternity test, or signs an acknowledgment of paternity form.

Most jurisdiction’s laws do not provide responsibility exceptions for parents who do not live with their children. When parents are divorced or separated or have never lived together, they may both be held accountable for providing financial support. If, for example, a child lives with his father, both the father and the mother are typically required to contribute money for the child’s care. In such a case, the mother may pay the father child support.

Sometimes the term parental responsibility is also used in discussions that involve holding a parent responsible for the behavior of his child. For example, in some jurisdictions, a parent may face prosecution if his child does not attend school regularly. Likewise, some jurisdictions have laws that make it possible to charge a parent with a crime if his child breaks the law.


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