Often parents face difficulties when they need to make arrangements for their children in respect of who they live with, spend time with or when it comes to making important decisions in their lives. We encourage informal arrangements are made between parents but sometimes this may not possible, and other avenues need to be explored.
What is Parental Responsibility?
This is when individuals have legal rights in relation to their children’s upbringing, usually their mother and father. Having Parental Responsibility (“PR”) does not provide an automatic right to spend time with the child if they don’t live with that parent, but it means that they have a legal right to make important decisions about their lives i.e. where they go to school, medical treatment they receive, changing their name or where they live.
A mother automatically acquires PR when she gives birth to her child. A father will acquire PR if he is listed on the child’s birth certificate or if he is married to the mother who has given birth. You may be able to apply for PR if you do not automatically have it, but we recommend that you seek legal advice in the first instance.
How can I make arrangements for my children if we can’t agree?
In the first instance, we recommend that you attempt to resolve your issues at Mediation. This is a voluntary process which means both you and the other parent cannot be forced to participate, but it is a very useful and cost-effective method to resolve children issues. You will first be invited to attend a Mediation, Information and Assessment Meeting (“MIAM”) where the mediator will assess your suitability for the process.
A mediator is an impartial and neutral third party, who will take a non-biased approach when dealing with your matter. They do not take sides, but instead consider both parties views and try to help find a solution which is agreeable.
If mediation is unsuccessful, you may wish to instruct a solicitor to attempt to negotiate arrangements. If you are still unable to resolve matters, you will need to apply to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order.
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
You might previously have known these orders to be called ‘Residence Orders’ or ‘Contact Orders’ which no longer exist. These have now been replaced with Child Arrangements Orders which regulate where your children live, who they spend time with, when this takes place and other types of contact.
What other orders can the Court make?
Separate from Child Arrangements Orders, the Court can make other orders under the Children Act 1989. These include the following: -
- Prohibited Steps Order – this prevents a parent from making decisions in relation to the upbringing of a chid e.g. not to be removed from school or jurisdiction.
- Specific Issue Order – this relates to a particular issue regarding the child’s upbringing e.g. who holds the child’s passport or what religion they follow.
- Live with Order – this is quite simply who the child lives with. There are benefits to a parent acquiring a ‘live with’ order such as the ability to take a child out of the jurisdiction for a period of 28 days without consent from the other parent.
- Spend time with Order – how much time the child spends with the other parent.
- Shared Care Order – this order will specify that the children live with both parents under the terms of a shared care order. This does not have to be strictly 50% of the time with each parent.
- Order for no contact – these are rare, but if the Court feels it is not in the best interests of the children to spend time with the other parent, a no contact order can be made.
Where does contact take place?
If unsupervised contact is not suitable, the Court can order for contact to take which is supervised by a third-party. This can take place either in a contact centre or can be arranged via family and friends so long as they agree. It will also be for the Court to decide whether the proposed family member and/or friend is suitable to oversee the contact.
Who is a children’s guardian?
The Court can appoint a guardian to represent the rights and interests of children in cases that involve social services. A guardian is qualified in social work and is trained and experienced in working with families and children in more complex cases such as:
- Allegations of harm suffered by the children;
- Safeguarding concerns;
- Agency involvement such as social services or the Police; and
- When experts are involved for psychological opinion.
What should I do if I need help with children matters?
Our team of family specialists can discuss the different ways of reaching a resolution with you.