Parental Responsibility

Less than 2% of the 11,000 applications for parental responsibility in 2006 were refused. The number of applications for parental responsibility is falling, following the new regulations which came into force in December 2003 which gave automatic parental responsibility to those fathers who jointly sign the birth certificate.


Generally, fathers who apply for a parental responsibility order choose to do so in tandem with an application for contact. They may have come to terms with not having parental responsibility and would not choose to go to court on this sole issue and stand the chance of antagonising the mother. But when problems over contact arise, since both applications can be incorporated on the same form for a single fee, they will apply for a contact order and a parental responsibility order together.

Combining applications for both orders (PR and contact) is more efficient and simple, but often the fairly straightforward decision about, and almost inevitable award of, parental responsibility, gets delayed until the contact issue is resolved. A stand-alone application for parental responsibility could be disposed of very quickly. Furthermore, since in many instances a mother’s opposition to the father’s application for parental responsibility would have no real merit or chance of success she should not benefit from legal aid funding and in many instances would be required to act in person or pay for legal representation. This factor alone could result in her not opposing the application or even, perhaps under pressure from the court, opting to make a parental responsibility agreement.

However, when the father is applying for both contact and parental responsibility, the mother, with the help of her (often publicly funded) solicitor can choose to argue against the granting of parental responsibility, just to be difficult, knowing that parental responsibility is almost certain to be awarded. S1(2) Children Act 1989 does require the court to dispose of te PR element of the application "without undue delay".

Section 4 of the Children Act does not stipulate the criteria which a father must meet in order to be given parental responsibility but just before the Children Act came into force in 1991 the Court of Appeal decision in Re H (Illegitimate Children: Parental Rights) dealt with this matter and since then the following factors have remained central to any decision:


a) That the status of the birth father is not in dispute.

b) The degree of commitment which the father has shown towards the child (this can be illustrated by financial support, pursuing contact and keeping arrangements, present at birth, having one's name on the birth certificate, involvement in child's education etc).

c) The degree of attachment existing between the father and the child (naturally a father of a very young child may have had less opportunity to develop this).

d) The reasons for the father's application (to weed out applications made solely to be obstructive or disruptive since the overwhelming number of applications will be made for genuine motives).

e) Any other relevant 

 

Where more than one person has parental responsibility for a child, each of them may act alone and without the other (or others) in meeting that responsibility;

However case-law has established that in certain circumstances parents are under a legal duty to consult, meaning that where parents are separated, the resident parent is not always entitled to act without first consulting her ex-partner. Back in 1998 the Court of Appeal (Re H (Parental Responsibility) said that a father with parental responsibility would have to be consulted on “schooling, serious medical problems and other important occurrences in the child's life'.

Parental responsibility is not concerned with the day-to-day care of the child, does not permit either (separated) parent to interfere with how the other parent cares for the child when the child is in their care. In A v A (Shared Residence) [2004] EWHC142 at paragraph 118 Mr Justice Wall remarked:

‘It is a basic principle that, post separation, each parent with parental responsibility retains an equal and independent right and responsibility to be informed and make appropriate decisions about their children. However, where children are being looked after by one parent, that parent needs to be in a position to take the day-to-day decisions that have to be taken while that parent is caring for the children. Parents should not be seeking to interfere with one another in matters which are taking place while they do not have the care of their children. Subject to any questions which are regulated by court order, the object of the exercise should be to maintain flexible and practical arrangements whenever possible.’

The parents in the case above had, with the help of NYAS, agreed a ‘Schedule of Items in Relation to their Exercise of Parental Responsibility’, a schedule which Mr Justice Wall chose to endorse by appending it to the end of his judgment. The schedule differentiated between 3 sorts of decisions:

(a) Decisions that could be taken independently and without any consultation or notification to the other parent

(b) Decisions where one parent would always need to inform the other parent of the decision, but did not need to consult or take the other parent’s views into account

Decisions that you would need to both inform and consult the other parent

Though there is no absolute agreement, the rule of thumb is that the following matters require the consent of all those who have parental responsibility for the child:

Change of surname (even where there is no residence order)

Removing the child from the jurisdiction (i.e. England and Wales) for more than one month

Committing to a serious and irreversible operation (except in an emergency)

Change of school

Change was introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014

Non Biological Parent Case Law

The following items of case law may assist LGBT non biological partners, step-fathers, and non biological fathers (who performed the role of social/psychological parent).

Whether you´re a father who finds he is not the biological parent, a step-parent or a same sex parent, depending on your past involvement with the child, commitment, and the extent of your relationship, the court may safeguard the child´s relationship with you. There are three ways in which people become a parent, as we go on to explain in the judgments below.

The acquisition of parental responsibility by non-biological parents is that the law changed in April 2014, and now also allows the court to grant parental responsibility to a non-biological parent when making a child arrangements order for contact.

 

 

 

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