What is parental responsibility and do I have it?
Parental Responsibility is the legal term which gives you responsibility for your children (often referred to as parental rights). Any mother automatically has parental responsibility for their child. As a father you can acquire parental responsibility either if you are married to the mother (either before or after birth) or if your child was born after December 2003 and you are named as the father on the birth certificate. If neither of these apply you can acquire parental responsibility either by way of agreement or by a court order.
Is there a set amount of contact I should have?
There is no ‘one size fits all’, but the law is clear that a child benefits most from spending time with both parents. How that will work will largely depend on your family, and what works best for you. The court will consider what arrangements are in the best interests of the child whilst having consideration of several different factors, known as the Welfare Checklist from section 1 (3) of the Children Act 1989.
What if my ex-partner and I cannot agree child arrangements?
It is inherently better for children if their parents are able to reach an agreement on child arrangements, but if you can’t the first step would be for parents to attend mediation. This is a forum which will allow both parents to voice any concerns, and discuss their proposals in the hopes that an agreement can be reached. If mediation is unsuccessful or not appropriate an application to the Court can be made, but this should be the last resort.
I have made an application to court, what happens next?
Once you have made an application to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order your case will be listed for a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment. This is usually 6 – 8 weeks after the application is submitted. During this time, CAFCASS, – the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, will complete an initial safeguarding report. This includes police background checks and local authority checks, to make sure there are no safeguarding concerns which should be brought to the Court’s attention. They will also have a telephone interview with both parents before the hearing to get each ‘side of the story’ and will ultimately make a recommendation to the Court on how to proceed. At the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment the Court will determine whether they need any further information, such as a “Wishes and Feelings” report from the children etc. If no further information is required they will try to encourage parents to reach an agreement, but ultimately if no agreement is reached the application will be listed for a final hearing for the Court to decide.
What happens if one person wants to move away with the children?
Again this issue is one which is decided on a case by case basis, and will all depend on the individual facts of the case. In the first instance parents should try to agree what the child arrangements should be, but if an agreement cannot be reached either the parent wanting to move, or the parent remaining, can make applications to the Court to determine the issue. The Court will use the same welfare checklist mentioned above to determine what is in the best interests of the child. If you find yourself in this situation obtaining legal advice early on is the best option, as advice can be given on prospects of success and what can be done to help your case.
I have a Child Arrangements Order but my ex-partner is in breach – what can I do?
You can make an application to the Family Court to enforce the Child Arrangements Order. Any application should be listed within 20 days, and where possible should be in front of the same Judge who made the Order. The Court has a wide range of powers to deal with enforcement, from fines to imprisonment and in extreme cases can order a change of residence if the welfare of the child requires this.
Can I change my child’s name?
A child’s name can only be changed if everybody with parental responsibility agrees. You would therefore need your ex-partners consent. Even if your ex-partner does not have parental responsibility you should still obtain their consent, as he may be successful in applying to the Court for an order to change the child’s name back. If you and your ex-partner cannot agree to changing the child’s name then either parent can make an application to the Court for a Specific Issue Order where the Court will decide whether it is in the child’s best interests for there to be a change of name.
I am concerned about things that my ex-partner is saying to the children / doing with the children. What can I do?
Parenting whilst together is hard enough, but learning to co-parent after separation can be one of the most difficult challenges separated parents face. There are lots of resources to help parents adjust to their new roles, and by far the best way to deal with these issues is to try to resolve them without matters escalating. Mediation can greatly benefit parents in this situation, as can simply sitting down and trying to agree a parenting plan, which covers how you propose to deal with sensitive issues such as the introduction of a new partner, or the children picking up on adult conversations! If you are still having difficulty with an ex-partner however, then you may wish to seek further legal advice on your specific situation.
How do I find out more?
We offer an initial consultation which usually last around an hour. During the consultation we will discuss the issues that you are having and give you advice on your specific situation. Our solicitors can suggest various solutions, and give you the further information you need to decide whether pursuing an application, or involving a solicitor is right for you. The cost of an initial consultation is £100 plus VAT.
If you have any queries relating to this, or any other family law matter, please contact Stephanie Layton or call 0191 232 8345.