On 14th October 1991 The Children Act 1989 came into force. The aim of the Children Act was to bring together various other Acts of Parliament which dealt with children, into one single Act. Prior to 1991, the courts made orders about “custody”, “access” and “care and control”. The Children Act introduced new words and new ideas in relation to legal issues concerning children. One important new concept was that of “Parental Responsibility”.
‘Parental Responsibility’ is defined as ‘all the rights, duties, powers and responsibilities and authority which by law a parent has in relation to a child and its property’. A parent who has Parental Responsibility has the right, for example, to access information regarding a child’s education, including school reports, and should the need arise, the right to give authority to any doctor or nurse to administer medication to a child.
The mother of a child will automatically have ‘Parental Responsibility’ over their child when she or he is born. If your child was born after 1st December 2003 and the child’s father was named on the birth certificate and he was present when the child’s birth was being registered, he will also share Parental Responsibility. For children born before 1st December 2003, or for children who do not have their father named on the birth certificate, the situation is slightly more complicated. The father does not acquire Parental Responsibility automatically. In those circumstances, Parental Responsibility can only be acquired if:-
- The parents of the child are married before or marry after the child’s birth.
- The parents enter into a Parental Responsibility agreement (a formal document, drawn up, that both parents sign)
- The Court makes a Parental Responsibility Order
Parental Responsibility for parents is retained even if the parents separate, and regardless of whom the child lives with.
The Adoption and Children Act 2002 (which finally came into force on 30th December 2005) has also made it possible for step-parents to acquire parental responsibility either by court order or by a Parental Responsibility Agreement.
At Jackson Quinn we have experts who can draft Parental Responsibility Agreements and if necessary, provide representation before the court in applications for Parental Responsibility Orders or any other orders concerning a child.
The Children Act states that the welfare of the child must be the first and major (“paramount”) consideration. Courts will only make Orders in relation to a child if it is really in the child’s interest to do so. Parents are encouraged to reach agreement regarding their children wherever possible.
If parents cannot agree there are four main types of Orders that the Court can make:-
If either party cannot agree on where the child should live, the Court will be asked to intervene and decide the issue of residence. The residence order will simply determine who the child should live with. Parental Responsibility is not affected, except in cases where a residence order is made in favour of someone without Parental Responsibility. They will then acquire Parental Responsibility for the duration of the order.
If either party cannot agree the arrangements for the child to have contact with the parent they do not live with, the Court may make a contact order. A contact order will determine the frequency, duration and venue for contact and may even specify the collection and return arrangements. Parental Responsibility is not affected.
Specific Issue Order
If there is a specific point upon which the parents cannot agree, the Court can be asked to make a decision. Such issues can include which school a child should go to, or by what surname the child should be known.
Prohibited Steps Order
This is similar to an injunction as it will prevent a parent from exercising their parental responsibility in particular way, or prevent a third party from acting in a particular way towards a child. An example is an order that a parent should not take a child out of the country on holiday.
In urgent cases the court can sometimes shortcut the usual procedure for making an order, for instance, where a child has been taken by one of the parents without the other parent’s consent. Such cases can come before the court very quickly.
Legal Aid is available to bring a private law children case before the court, subject to an assessment of means and whether the case has legal merit.
Jackson Quinn has a number of lawyers who are experienced in all areas of child law. Members of our specialist team are also accredited to a number of specialist panels such as the Law Society’s Children, Family, Advanced Family Law Panels and that of Resolution.
This means that their competence has been independently assessed at the highest of standards. You can therefore be assured that you are receiving the very best legal advice for you and your child.