Slater and Gordon Lawyers can assist you in regards to many important family matters concerning your child or children. This can include arrangements for where they’ll live, helping you with parental responsibility, residence and contact arrangements, contact orders, mediation and issues relating to relocating children within or outside the UK or taking a child on holiday abroad.
Slater and Gordon has the largest team of family lawyers in the UK. We can provide you with the immediate legal representation and support you may need.
Parental responsibility is the legal terminology for the bundle of legal rights that many people assume they have just by being a parent; namely the right to make decisions about a child’s upbringing. If you already have parental responsibility, you’re entitled to a say in all the important matters affecting a child’s upbringing. Certain decisions cannot be made without your involvement.
The legal definition of parental responsibility is: “All the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.”
Some examples of exercising parental responsibility include making decisions on education, medical treatment, religious upbringing and whether or not a child can travel internationally. Parental responsibility is an abstract concept, so it’s separate from decisions about which parent a child lives with and whom he or she spends time with (contact).
Although having parental responsibility gives a parent certain rights, there’s an obligation to exercise those rights in the best interests of the child/children. Where there’s a dispute as to how parental responsibility should be exercised, the Court will look at what outcome best meets the child’s needs, not which parental rights should be prioritised.
A woman automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth.
A father will have parental responsibility if he was married to the mother either when the child was born or subsequently. A father who’s not married to the child’s mother will have automatic parental responsibility if the child was born after December 1st 2003 and if they’re listed on the child’s birth certificate.
In all other situations, a father won’t have automatic parental responsibility. However, he can obtain parental responsibility by using one of the methods listed below.
An unmarried father who’s not automatically entitled to parental responsibility may obtain it by:
There are situations when people other than a child’s parents or step-parents might require parental responsibility, such as if the child’s growing up in a kinship care situation where a step-parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt provides day-to-day care. These people can get parental responsibility by obtaining from the Court either a residence order or a special guardianship order in their favour. The parental responsibility obtained lasts only as long as the order remains in force.
As previously stated, parental responsibility obtained by a child arrangement order or a special guardianship order only lasts for as long as that order remains in force.
A person who has parental responsibility through one of these court orders will lose it when the order expires. Parental responsibility cannot be taken away from a parent who has it automatically, except through an adoption order.
The Court can remove a parent’s or step-parent’s parental responsibility if it’s been acquired through a parental responsibility agreement or parental responsibility order. However, it's rare for a court to do this, and the circumstances where this might be appropriate are exceptional.
Otherwise, parental responsibility may not be removed, surrendered or transferred. It may, however, be delegated. This means a person with parental responsibility can arrange for another person to meet some or all aspects of it in relation to a child. This can prove useful, for example, if a child or children are being educated in the UK but the parents live overseas. The parents might decide to delegate parental responsibility to a family member or to a trusted adult in the UK whilst the child is at school here.
The consequences of a relationship ending need particularly careful management when children are involved. Questions regarding child arrangements always arise when parents separate. Residence was previously used by the courts to determine where the child will reside, while contact was referred to as the time a child spends with a person or people other than those they ordinarily live with. This has been replaced with a child arrangement order which deals with who the child shall live with and how frequently they spend time with another party.
Shared child arrangements to spend an equal amount of time with both parents have become increasingly popular. This type of arrangement can enable a child to live with both parents and determines how the time will be divided up.
It’s common to hear residence and contact being referred to as custody and access. Some of this terminology changed over 20 years ago, but these expressions are still sometimes used interchangeably with the new ones. The change in terminology also signalled a change in focus. Questions of residence (lives with order) and contact (spends time with order) are always decided by looking at what’s best for the children and the rights and wishes of parents are secondary to that.
Questions regarding child arrangements start with the presumption that the parents, are the best people to decide on arrangements. If parents who separate can agree on child arrangements, the Court will not become involved.
Court involvement starts only if:
Our children law solicitors help parents in negotiating questions of residence and/or an appropriate contact regime. We work with individuals and groups who can assist separating parents, such as family law mediators, therapists and counsellors, to empower them to make the best arrangements for their children. If negotiation proves unsuccessful, we can represent parents either making or answering applications for residence and/or contact orders.
Some situations make it especially hard for parents to reach an agreement about child arrangements, such as a situation where one parent wants to relocate abroad. Where a Court’s assistance proves necessary for whatever reason, our children law solicitors can guide you sensitively and expertly through the process, achieving the best outcome for you and your children.
A “lives with” order (formerly known as a residence order) made in favour of a person who doesn’t already have parental responsibility gives them that status for as long as the residence order lasts. A person in whose favour a lives with order is made is legally entitled to remove the child temporarily from the UK without needing permission from everybody with parental responsibility.
When it comes to child arrangements, the agreements can vary between families. One of the most common agreements is for the child to visit and stay with the parent that they don’t usually live with on alternate weekends.
However, location and other issues may mean that this solution isn’t ideal for some families. As with all section 8 orders, the aim is to establish the arrangement that’s best suited for the child in question.
Contact can take many different forms. For example, it could involve visits in person, phone calls and communication using video-chatting services such as Skype. These forms of contact can be especially useful in situations where location limits the amount of contact in-person.
In short, a contact order outlines exactly how this communication takes place. For example, it may include the directions and conditions for the handover of the child and who must do what during contact. The order may also establish how the parents are to communicate over any issues that may come up during visits.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers can advise you on any child removal or relocation issue. Below we discuss the scenarios which you as a parent may need expert legal help with.
When there’s no lives with (formerly residence) order in place, taking a child or children out of the UK on holiday requires the consent of every person with parental responsibility.
If that consent cannot be obtained, then the Court’s permission must be sought. Taking a child out of the UK without consent may constitute a child abduction. If it is, it might have civil and criminal consequences. It's a serious matter, and there may be significant penalties. This is true even if the child or children are taken away for a short holiday.
It's always advisable to clarify the situation with a parental responsibility specialist well in advance if you intend to take a child out of the UK. This is all the more important where there’s any real doubt about whether all holders of parental responsibility will consent to the removal. If it's not possible for parents to agree whether a child/children should be removed from the UK for a holiday, the matter must be referred to the Court to decide.
When a residence order has been made in relation to a child, the person in whose favour the order is made can take the child away on holiday for limited periods. He or she can do so without the consent of the other holders of parental responsibility. The child/children may only be away for a month or less under this exception.
While this strict legal right applies, it's still sensible for a person with a lives with order in their favour to consult the other holders of parental responsibility about any proposed visits overseas. At the very least, good and cooperative parenting should mean that those with parental responsibility should be informed in advance of the holiday and provided with a travel itinerary.
With more and more families having international connections, it's increasingly common for a parent to want to return to their country of origin after a relationship breakdown. Similarly, a separated parent might seek to leave the UK to make a fresh start abroad, for example with a new partner or in pursuit of a career. These situations can often result in a dispute about child arrangements.
The same considerations explained above apply to child relocation cases. A relocation might be considered an unlawful and a criminal offence without the consent of all holders of parental responsibility or a Court’s permission. Parents might be able to come to a compromise on whether contact should be for two or three days a fortnight by splitting the difference. This is impossible where the decision is a binary one, such as deciding whether the children should live in the UK or abroad.
This is an area of law where early legal advice and preparation can help in reaching an amicable outcome.
It's not uncommon for parents to wish to relocate within the UK. For example, they may wish to live nearer friends or family or to progress in their career. Usually, any internal relocation and other questions that follow on from it (such as which school the child will attend) will need to be the subject of agreement between those who hold parental responsibility for the child/children.
It's possible to apply to the Court for a lives with (formerly residence) order, a specific issue order or a prohibited steps order to resolve a dispute about whether it’s in a child’s interest to relocate internally within the UK.
If you need help regarding a personal family matter, Slater and Gordon Lawyers can help.
We understand that parental responsibility issues can be complex and sensitive. We’ll work closely with you, taking your unique circumstances into consideration every step of the way. We’re caring in our approach and you can trust us to treat your case with the utmost compassion at all times.
To discuss your situation with us, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can call our team of expert children law solicitors on freephone 0808 175 8000. Our contact centre is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Alternatively, you can contact us online and we'll get back to you at a time that suits you.