Children Law Solicitors at Slater and Gordon Lawyers can help you with the important issues such as where the child / children will live, help obtaining Parental Responsibility, Residence and Contact Arrangements, Contact Orders, Mediation and issues relating to relocating children within or outside the UK; or taking a child/children on holiday abroad.
We can provide immediate legal representation anywhere in England & Wales from our offices in Newcastle, London, Manchester, Ashton-Under Lyne, Liverpool, Chester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Preston, Wakefield and Wrexham.
Slater and Gordon has the largest team of Family Lawyers in the UK. We offer both flexible pricing and fixed fees for all our Family, Divorce & Child Law services.
Parental Responsibility - Your Legal Rights
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 are entitled to a say in all the important matters affecting a child’s upbringing. Certain decisions cannot be made without your involvement.
Parental Responsibility definition in law: “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 decisions on education, medical treatment, religious upbringing, and whether or not a child can travel internationally. Parental Responsibility is an abstract concept, so is separate from decisions about where a child lives (Residence) and whom he or she sees (Contact).
Although having Parental Responsibility gives a parent certain rights, there is an obligation to exercise those rights for the benefit of the child/children. Where there is 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.
Children Law - Who Has Parental Responsibility?
A woman who gives birth to a child, automatically has Parental Responsibility. She is usually the child’s mother, but not always, for example in some Surrogacy arrangements. A father will automatically have Parental Responsibility if he was married to the mother either at the time of the child’s birth or subsequently. A father who is not married to the mother will only have Parental Responsibility automatically if the child was born after December 2003 and he is named on the birth certificate.
In all other circumstances, a father will not automatically have Parental Responsibility and he must obtain it by one of the methods described below. In some families, people other than a child’s parents will have Parental Responsibility; such as stepparents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. The ways in which people other than a child’s parents can get Parental Responsibility are explained below.
Children Law - How to Get Parental Responsibility
An unmarried father who is not automatically entitled to Parental Responsibility may obtain it by:
- Entering into an Parental Responsibility Agreement with the child’s mother in the appropriate form, which must then be registered
- Obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the Court, or
- Obtaining a Residence Order from the Court.
A Stepparent Can Also Get Parental Responsibility
There are situations when people other than a child’s parents or stepparents might require Parental Responsibility. For example, if the child is growing up in a kinship care situation, where a grandparent or 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.
Can Parental Responsibility Be Taken Away?
Parental Responsibility obtained by a Residence 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.
Removing Parental Responsibility
The Court can remove a parent’s or stepparent’s Parental Responsibility if that has 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 England but the parents live overseas. The parents might decide to delegate Parental Responsibility to a family member or to a trusted adult in England whilst the child is at school here.
Children Law - Residence & Contact Arrangements
The consequences of a relationship ending need particularly careful management when children are involved. Residence and Contact questions always arise when parents separate. “Residence” means where a child lives. “Contact” means the time a child/children spend with a person or people other than where they ordinarily live. Residence and Contact are types of Section 8 Orders.
An arrangement called “Shared Residence” is becoming increasingly popular. It can provide for a child to live with both parents and spell out how the time will be divided. A Shared Residence Order can be made even if the division of time is unequal between the two homes. These Orders are especially popular because they are seen as reinforcing the significant and continuing role that both parents will play in their children’s lives after the separation.
The concept of Residence and Contact used to be called “Custody” and “Access”. The terminology changed over twenty years ago, however, these old expressions have stuck, and are still sometimes used interchangeably with the new ones. The change in terminology also signalled a change in focus, questions of Residence and Contact are always decided by looking at what is best for the children, and the rights and wishes of parents are secondary to that.
As with other Section 8 Orders, Residence and Contact questions start with the presumption that they, the parents, are the best people to decide on arrangements. So, if parents who separate can agree on Residence and Contact, the Court will not become involved.
Court involvement starts only if:
(a) There are concerns about the children’s welfare, or
(b) The parents cannot agree on where the children will live, or arrangements for Contact and one of the parents makes an application to the Court for help.
Mediation Lawyers for Residence & Contact Orders
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 Residence and Contact with which they can both live: for example, 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 and help achieve the best outcome for you and your family.
A Residence Order made in favour of a person who does not already have Parental Responsibility gives them that status for as long as the Residence Order lasts. A person in whose favour a Residence Order is made is legally entitled to remove the child temporarily from the UK without needing permission from everybody with Parental Responsibility.
Children Law - Contact Orders
There is no “one-size fits all” Contact arrangement. Different patterns of contact work for different families. A common pattern we see is for children to stay with the parent they do not normally live with on alternate weekends and for half of holiday periods. However, geography and other issues may make that pattern less than ideal for a particular family. The quest, as with all Section 8 Orders, is to identify the arrangement that is best for the particular child concerned.
Contact can also take the form of visits, telephone calls, time together using Skype and similar services, and other forms of indirect communication. These are especially important where geography prevents more frequent face-to-face contact.
A Contact Order can include provisions that spell out precisely how Contact operates; conditions and directions for handovers, who must do (or not do) what during Contact, how parents are to communicate over any issues that arise during Contact visits, and similar. Whether the attachment of conditions like these to a Contact Order proves necessary depends on the particular case.
Children Law - Child Removal & Relocation
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.
Taking a Child / Children Out of the UK on Holiday
When there is no Residence Order, taking a child / children out of the UK for a 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 might 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 intended taking a child out of the UK. This is all the more important where there is 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.
Whilst this strict legal right applies, it's still sensible for a person with a Residence Order in their favour to consult the other holders of Parental Responsibility about any proposed visit 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.
Children Law - Child Relocation Cases
In 2010, the Ministry of Justice estimated that 65% of children born in London had at least one foreign parent. With the majority of families having international ties, it's increasingly common after a relationship breakdown for a parent to wish to return to their country of origin. Similarly, a separated parent might seek to leave the UK to make a fresh start abroad, either with a new partner or in pursuit of a career. These situations almost always result in a dispute about Residence and Contact, agreements reached about Residence where everybody lives in England might be unworkable with a transnational overlay.
The same considerations explained above apply equally to Child Relocation Cases. A relocation might be unlawful and a criminal offence without the consent of all holders of Parental Responsibility or a Court’s permission. Relocation cases are always fraught. Parents might be able to 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, for example, should the children live in England or abroad? There is little room for compromise. This is an area of law where early legal advice and preparation really can swing the outcome. This holds true whether representing the parent wishing to relocate, or the parent seeking to prevent the children emigrating.
Children Law - Relocation a Child within the UK
It's not uncommon for parents to wish to relocate within the UK, to live nearer friends or family or to progress 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 Residence Order, a Specific Issue Order or a Prohibited Steps Order to resolve a dispute about whether it is in a child’s interests to relocate internally within the UK.
For an initial consultation call our Children Law Solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online and we'll be happy to help you.
Slater and Gordon have the largest team of Family Lawyers in the country with offices across England & Wales. We offer flexible pricing and fixed fees for all our family and child law services.