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Being a Parent – Your Rights and Obligations

As a parent, you have certain rights in respect of your relationship with your children and you also have certain obligations to fulfil. The concept of parental responsibility provides a legal framework for these rights and obligations; it is defined by the Children Act 1989.

At Goodsells Family Law Solicitors in London, we understand that issues relating to children and Child Law can be emotional and complex. We provide clear, reliable advice on a wide range of child legal matters and have many years' experience in helping clients resolve such issues, while making sure the welfare of the children involved remains a priority.

Who has parental responsibility?

It's important to note that only the birth-mother of a child has automatic parental responsibility for a child. As the father or non-biological parent there are three ways to acquire parental responsibility:

  • You, as the male parent, were married to, or the civil partner of, the child's mother at the time of birth
  • You have legally adopted the child
  • Your name is on the child's birth certificate (for children born after a certain date – 1 December 2003 in England and Wales, 4 May 2006 in Scotland, and 15 April 2002 in Northern Ireland.)

Unmarried fathers and step-parents who cannot claim parental responsibility under any of the above terms may seek a parental responsibility agreement with the mother or apply to the Family Court for a Parental Responsibility Order.

Same-sex parents and parental responsibility

Female partners who are married or in a registered civil partnership at the time of donor insemination or fertility treatment will both have automatic parental responsibility. If the same-sex partners are not married or civil partnered, only the birth mother will have automatic parental responsibility and her partner will need to seek parental responsibility in the same ways as listed above.

The rules relating to parental responsibility for male partners who have a child through surrogacy and for parents who have transitioned or are in the process of gender transitioning are more convoluted and legal advice from a practitioner who specialises in this area should be sought. Talk to Goodsells today so that we can assist you.

Parental responsibility basics

Essentially parental responsibility lasts until the child is 18 and it means you have the right to be involved in significant matters relating to the child's welfare and wellbeing, particularly in relation to:

  • where the child should live (particularly if one parent wishes to move away following a relationship breakdown)
  • the child's education (particularly in relation to deciding on the type of education provided, and receiving school reports and attending parent-teacher meetings)
  • health care and medical treatment (for example, in making decisions about whether the child receives particular medical treatments, such as inoculations etc.)
  • changing the child's name
  • religious upbringing and/or education
  • going on holiday and leaving the country (all persons with parental responsibility need to give consent before a child is taken abroad. If consent is not given, the parent removing the child from jurisdiction could be charged with child abduction)

If parental responsibility has been granted via an agreement with the birth mother or via a court order then it can also be removed by a court.

When a child is formally adopted, the new parents become the persons with parental responsibility and any other person who formerly had parental responsibility will lose it, including the birth mother.

Your parental obligations and rights

As a parent, you have some fundamental obligations to your child in terms of their welfare and you also have certain rights in terms of your relationship with the child.

Parents who do not live with their children, whether they have parental responsibility or not, are required by law to pay child maintenance. The court treats parental responsibility and child maintenance as two separate issues and the amount to be contributed can either be agreed with the primary carer or an assessment will be made by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

Parents have the right to reasonable contact with their child as long as there is no risk to the child's welfare. Unless a prohibited steps order has been put in place by a court to prevent contact, a primary carer (the person with whom the child lives on a day-to-day basis) cannot prevent a non-resident parent from having contact with their child.

An unmarried father who does not have parental responsibility has the right to apply to the court for certain court orders in relation to having contact with his child and if the child is in the care of the Local Authority, he has the right to reasonable contact.

Goodsells – Specialist Family Solicitor in London

In all cases involving children, the court's priority will be to ensure the child's welfare and any order made will seek to preserve their best interests. While Family Law courts understand that a parent's relationship and contact with their child is significant in the child's wellbeing, they are not obliged to make an order for contact if it is not in the child's best interests.

Whatever your circumstances, Goodsells Family Law Solicitors in Clapham will provide sensitive, pragmatic legal advice in relation to your child law issue.

Contact Goodsells Family Law by calling 020 7622 2221 or complete our online enquiry form.

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