Will the Family Court Recognise my Parental ‘Rights’?

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The court presumes that any parent plays an important role in a child’s life. However, the Family Court prefers to talk in terms of parental ‘responsibilities’ rather than parental ‘rights’. This is because the focus is on the rights of the child rather than the rights of the parent. The child has the right to know the love of both (or indeed all) of their parents as long as this is safe and in their best interests.

A parent can apply to the Family Court to:

  • spend time with a child (whether face to face, by video call, or otherwise) or for the child to live with them
  • for a specific issue in dispute between parents to be determined (such as which school a child should attend)
  • to limit the actions of another parent (such as preventing a parent removing a child abroad or from the care of the other without agreement)

Such applications are dealt with under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 and are applied for in Form C100. The Court will make its decision based on what is in the child’s best interests, rather than the parents’ ‘rights’. The child’s best interests are paramount and, assessing what is in the child’s interests is achieved by looking at a checklist of factors. These factors include the child’s specific characteristics, all the child’s needs and the impact on them of any change.

The Family Court often refers to ‘parental responsibility’. This is a legal status usually held by a parent and there are duties which come with it. The biological mother of a child automatically has parental responsibility. A father may obtain parental responsibility by being married to a mother when a child is born, by being named on a child’s birth certificate, by a court order or by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother. In specific and extreme circumstances, the Family Court may restrict or remove a parent’s parental responsibility.

While it is not referred to as sharing parental rights, sharing parental responsibility does mean that parents should consult each other on important decisions for the child and share with each other important information. Important decisions and information will include that about the child’s health, religion, protection, surname and education. If one separated parent is failing to inform the other of events or to consult them about relevant decisions, this can be addressed in the Family Court.

The Court recognises that parental responsibility is likely to evolve as a child becomes older. Once a child reaches their teenage years, their view will carry increasing weight in making decisions regarding their welfare.   It should be considered where a court order is necessary that orders are intended to last for a child throughout their minority. Whilst this does not prevent parties from reconsidering arrangements further down the line as circumstances change, it is sensible to consider how a child’s needs may develop beyond the short term to avoid future Court proceedings when asking for an order to be made.

Here to Help

If you need advice on any family matter, please get in touch with Tracey Dargan, Partner and Head of Family and Divorce.

Please note the contents of this article are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.