When a relationship breaks down and there are children, their future wellbeing will be fundamental to any agreement or court order. Parental responsibility and child arrangement orders record living arrangements and other matters relating to a child’s welfare and upbringing.

What Is Parental Responsibility?

The concept has several main aspects:

  • Someone with parental responsibility has all the rights and duties in relation to a child that a parent normally has. This means being consulted on key matters about the child’s upbringing, including which religion to bring the child up in, where the child should be educated and decisions about medical care.
  • On a day-to-day basis the parent with whom the child lives should be able to take routine decisions without the intervention of anyone else with parental responsibility.
  • An individual may not have parental responsibility but still have obligations towards the child. For example an unmarried father does not automatically have parental responsibility (see below) but may still be obliged to support the child financially.
  • Even with parental responsibility an individual has no automatic right to contact or to know where the child lives.

Who Has Parental Responsibility?

Parental responsibility is held automatically by:

  • Mothers, whether married or unmarried
  • Married fathers

How Do I Get Parental Responsibility?

If you don’t automatically have parental responsibility you can acquire it through adoption, your appointment as guardian or by being named as the resident parent under a Child Arrangements Order.

What About Unmarried Fathers?

Unmarried fathers can also get parental responsibility by:

  • Marrying the mother
  • Putting their name on the birth certificate
  • An agreement with the child’s mother
  • Applying to court for a Parental Responsibility Order

Does A Grandparent Who Cares For A Child Have Parental Responsibility?

Grandparents do not have any special standing when it comes to parental responsibility and should obtain a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order, both of which grant parental responsibility.

How Do Step-Parents Get Parental Responsibility?

Step-parents may assume parental responsibility if everyone else with parental responsibility agrees. If there is no agreement a step-parent can apply for a court order. They must be married to one of the parents.

What Is A Child Arrangements Order?

Child Arrangement Orders replaced Residence and Contact Order in 2014. A family court judge examines all relevant issues and circumstances and sets out living arrangements for children when their parents or guardians are unable to reach agreement. There are four types of order:

  • Residence – setting out where and with whom a child lives.
  • Contact – indicating the level of contact a child will have with a parent he or she does not live with, for example monthly or weekly contact. The order may also specify whether contact is allowed by text, email or phone.
  • Specific Issue – imposes certain conditions in relation to aspects of the child’s upbringing, including religion and education.
  • Prohibited Steps – stipulates that certain things cannot be done. These are commonly used to prevent a child being removed from the country.

Is A Court Order Necessary?

Parents and guardians only use the court when they cannot agree child living arrangements between themselves. And a mediation meeting (MIAM) is required before any court application. If you do reach agreement before court it is advisable to get a solicitor to draft a consent order for the court to approve.

Who Can Apply For A Child Arrangements Order?

A child’s mother or father may apply directly to the court for an order as well as anyone with parental responsibility. Other individuals, including grandparents must first ask the court for permission to apply for an order.

What Factors Does The Court Take Into Account Before Deciding On Child Arrangements?

The important thing to remember is that the welfare of the child is the court’s paramount concern. It will not make an order it does not believe to be in the child’s interest. Judges will therefore consider matters such as:

  • The child’s feelings
  • Educational and emotional needs
  • Potential risk to the child
  • The extent to which parents can meet the child’s needs

Do I Need A Solicitor To Obtain Parental Responsibility Or A Child Arrangements Order?

Legal representation is not essential to obtain this type of court order. However disputes over childcare can become emotionally difficult. It is not always easy to separate personal feelings from the practicalities of the case. An experienced family law solicitor can assist in preparing your case and speak for you in court. He or she may also be able to help you find agreement without going to court.

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