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For a separating couple, one concern, if not the major concern, will be the effect of separation on any children. Jackson Quinn offers specialist, practical advice to parents experiencing these difficulties. We can assist in achieving settled and workable arrangements for the benefit of your child.
On 14th October 1991 The Children Act 1989 came into force as amended by the Children and Families Act 2014. 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 “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 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:
• Child Arrangements Order with whom the child concerned will live. If either party cannot agree on where the child should live, the Court will be asked to intervene to decide the issue. The Child Arrangements Order will simply determine who the child should live with. Parental Responsibility will not be affected, except in cases where a Child Arrangements Order is made in favour of someone without Parental Responsibility. They will then acquire Parental Responsibility for the duration of the order.
• Child Arrangements Order concerning who the child shall spend time with. If either party cannot agree the arrangements for the child to spend time with a non-resident parent or another person, the Court may make a Child Arrangements Order setting out the time the child will spend with that person. The Child Arrangements Order will determine the frequency, duration and venue for the arrangements made and may specify the collection and return arrangements. Parental Responsibility would not be 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 a 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 in certain circumstances. At Jackson Quinn we will always make enquiries to establish whether Legal Aid would be available in your case when you initially make contact with us. If you are not eligible for Legal Aid, we do offer our services for a fixed fee or at an hourly rate. We will be happy to discuss our costs with you when you first make an appointment with us. 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 Children’s Law Accreditation Scheme and 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.