Three Parent Family

I recently had this enquiry:

My spouse and I have a three-year-old son. We are both registered as parents on his birth certificate. We live with a very close friend, Jamie, who has taken an active role in parenting our son throughout his life since he was very small.

Jamie is so involved in our son’s life that their role has effectively become that of a third parent, and we want the official state of affairs to reflect this. We want to give Jamie parental responsibility, and should my spouse and I both die, for example, we would want Jamie to have all the rights of a parent in making decisions about our son.

Sarah

[I have changed names and otherwise anonymised the post to protect the enquirer’s privacy]

Now the email was entirely gender-neutral: I did not know whether Sarah was married to a man or a woman, nor did the name of their friend give me a definitive indication of their gender, nor whether any of the adults were cis- or trans-gendered. In fact it would make no difference to my answer, which was as follows:

Dear Sarah

Thank you for your email.

There are two distinct things you want to look at:

1. Parental responsibility and

2. Guardianship

Parental Responsibility

The only way to give parental responsibility to someone who is not a parent (nor step-parent) of the child is by way of a child arrangements order that provides that the child will live with that person. In your case because your son is living with all of you, the child arrangements order would provide that your son lives with you, your spouse and Jamie.

To get that order, Jamie would need to make an application to the court on form C100. They would not need permission from the court because you and your spouse agree. At the FHDRA you would explain the situation to the judge. It is up to the court then whether to grant the order, refuse it or give further directions (such as for a Cafcass report) and adjourn the matter to another hearing.

You may feel that you can represent yourselves, but we can represent you if you wish.

Please note that you could not unilaterally revoke this order nor the parental responsibility and you would need to get another court order either to terminate the original order or to make another child arrangements order that provides who your son would be living with.

Guardianship

This provides for someone to have parental responsibility if the child’s parents were to die. It only comes into affect on death, so you can change it any time before then. It needs to be made in writing and signed and dated. It is often made as part of a will. If you already have a will, all you would need to do is to write the following, date and sign it:

I, xxx hereby appoint xxx of xxx to be the guardian(s) of any of my children who are under the age of eighteen at the date of my death.

A guardian appointment only takes effect once both parents have died unless the deceased parent had a child arrangements order in place that provided the child lives with them. So in your case if you have no child arrangements order (see above), Jamie would only become a guardian of your son if you were both going to die. However, if you do have a child arrangements order providing Jamie lives with all three of you, the appointment of a guardian would be effective if one of you were to die (provided you both appoint Jamie as the guardian). You should get individual advice on your own situation and in particular you would consider wording the appointment of a guardian so that it will only be effective if both of you were going to die even if there is a child arrangements order that your son lives with both of you.