In the UK Parental Responsibility refers to all the legal rights, duties, responsibilities and authority that a parent exercises over the life and property of the child. Making decisions about shaping the child’s life will usually be mutually agreed between parents, however, when disputes arise, and one parent does not have ‘parental responsibility,’ it becomes difficult to establish any legal right over participation or consultation in such major life decisions that relate to shaping the life of the child. Problems are most likely to occur where parents are separated, divorced or unmarried.

Since a mother has automatic parental responsibility of the child, it is for the other partner i.e., unmarried partner or father of the child, to undergo certain legal procedures to acquire such a status by either marrying the mother, or entering into a parental responsibility agreement, or entering their name as father of the child in the birth certificate, or applying for such status before the court. This is the only way to ensure the right to be consulted over the determination of the future of the child’s life.

Major parental dispute areas

Parents often face conflicts while deciding about the day-to-day matters of their child, for instance, nutrition and recreational activities. However, problems typically occur when there is a dispute over the major life decisions pertaining to a child, which are also usually irreversible.

These might, for example, include conflicts over the removal of a child from England and Wales to another jurisdiction (beyond one month), the right to prevent the adoption of the child or a change in the surname of the child, all of which also carry other legal implications. Or they might be in relation to issues such as the decision over the chosen religious belief of the child, the schooling and other education matters of the child which includes any parental participation in school activities as well as any parental consent for school outings of the child, issues relating to a child’s medical care, for instance, access to medical records (unless there is an emergency) and so on.

The role of the courts in parental disputes

The court relies on various factors while deciding upon an application for an order on parental responsibility or child arrangement order. These factors are focused on the ‘welfare’ of the child and the primary importance being the ‘best interests of the child’.

This means consideration is given to a host of potential issues such as the status of relationship between the child and an unmarried parent; the emotional, monetary and corporeal support offered by a parent; the unfit status of a parent towards the child’s life, by reason of abuse or otherwise; and also the child’s personal wishes if it is age appropriate to take such wishes into account.

In the end, if one parent is interested in being a part of the development of the child’s life and the other parent is unwilling to agree to this, it may be necessary to seek a formal arrangement through the use of legal procedures and a court order.

Comment

Most parents agree on the idea that it is imperative to have a positive family environment for a holistic growth and development of the child. However, it is not uncommon for parents to disagree on the means of achieving this, particularly if they are separated, divorced or unmarried. If the parents disagree with major decisions that relate to the child’s future, and there is difficulty in mutual reconciliation over such matters, legal assistance is advisable to ensure both parents exercise control over the child’s life in important areas, especially when one parent lacks parental responsibility of the child.