In UK family law, generally speaking an individual person with parental responsibility can make decisions about the child on their own, if need be.
In fact, there are also many decisions which may be made by someone who is simply looking after a child. The Children Act 1989 says that any person who has care of the child (which may be a child minder, relative, teacher etc) may do what is reasonable in all the circumstances for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare. This is subject to the need to comply with any court orders or other legal restrictions but it means that a responsible adult can make emergency decisions on behalf of a child even if the parent or parents cannot be consulted. Despite this, in practice, a carer may find it difficult to act alone – hospitals, for example, will be careful to ensure that parents are involved before any major treatment decision is made.
There are a few things which can only be done with the agreement of every individual with parental responsibility. You may not change a child’s name, consent to a child’s marriage or consent to a child being adopted without specific agreement between everyone with parental responsibility. You may not take the child out of the country to live (although if you have a residence order, you are allowed to take the child away for a holiday for up to 4 weeks without the specific agreement of anyone else with parental responsibility.
A non-parent with parental responsibility (eg a grandmother or stepfather with a residence order or Special Guardian) may not consent to adoption or appoint a guardian for the child in the event of his death.
If a court order has been made, everybody with parental responsibility must do whatever the court orders. This takes priority over anything else – in other words if the court says the child should go to such and such a school, it is not up to the mother to change that unless she goes back to ask the court to make a different order.
If the local authority has parental responsibility because of a care order it has the power to determine the extent to which a parent or legal guardian may meet his parental responsibility for the child. In other words, the local authority’s decision is final. If there is disagreement over contact, however, the parent can make an application to the court. If there is disagreement over other issues, there may be other legal remedies but this would require specialist legal advice.
If parental responsibility is shared it is a good idea to consult or at the very least inform the other party if you are about to take a major step in a child’s life such as decide which school the child should go to. Strictly speaking, you can act alone but if the other party objects you may find yourself on the receiving end of an application to the court. The more information you share the less likely there is to be an unnecessary disagreement.