In England and Wales it is defined in the Children Act 1989 as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent has in relation to the child and his property”. It is the starting point for recognition as a parent under the law.
In Scotland it is described in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 as the responsibility:
to safeguard and promote the child's health, development and welfare;
to provide, in a manner appropriate to the stage of development of the child—
to the child;
if the child is not living with the parent, to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the child on a regular basis; and
to act as the child's legal representative.
Having parental responsibility for a child means that you can take decisions about matters such as education and religion and that you can consent to medical treatment for the child.
In Scotland a broader range of people can apply to the courts for parental rights and responsibilities – this is most relevant to lesbian co-parents and any awarding of these will only be done if it is deemed in the best interests of the child.
For more information about parental responsibility, Rights of Women have produced a free legal guide on what it means and how to apply for it: www.rightsofwomen.org.uk.