In family law, parental responsibility is defined as ‘all the rights, duties, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child’.

Under family law, a mother has automatic PR in relation to her children, as does a father married to the mother. A father whose name is on the birth certificate where the child was born after 1st December 2003 has PR. Otherwise, unmarried fathers do not automatically have PR under current family law. This can be acquired by entering into a PR agreement or obtaining a Court Order. It is important for a parent to have PR as this enables you to obtain information about your child from their doctor or school and also enables you to consent to medical treatment.

What happens when the Court has to make a decision about a child?

An application is made to the Court and a date is set for the hearing. The first hearing is often referred to as a Conciliation Appointment and the aim of this hearing is to offer parents an opportunity to try to reach an agreement about matters.

At the first hearing, you will often meet a CAFCASS officer (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). CAFCASS will try to assist your discussions with the other parent. Sometimes, if matters are not agreed, the Judge will ask CAFCASS to produce a formal report. If this happens, the CAFCASS officer will usually meet each parent, both alone and with the children. This is usual practice in Residence disputes.

If an agreement still cannot be reached, a final hearing is set and the Judge will make a decision at that hearing. The Judge’s decision will very often follow the recommendation of CAFCASS if a report has been made.

What Orders can the Court make?

Residence – the term used in family law to determine with whom a child will live. It is possible for one parent to have a Residence Order and the other parent to have defined Contact with their child. It is also possible to have a Shared Residence Order to reflect the fact that a child is resident with both his or her parents. A child’s time does not necessarily have to be divided equally between the parents when a Shared Residence Order is in place.

Contact – this sets out the time a child should spend with the parent with whom he does not live on a day-to-day basis. This is often reviewed as a child grows up. Contact can be very specific, stating exactly what time a child should spend with one parent, or can be more general.

Specific Issue – this may be necessary when the Court is determining a particular aspect of a child’s care, for example what school he or she should attend.

Prohibited Steps Order – this might be made to prevent specific courses of action, for example to prevent one parent from taking a child out of the country.


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