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What is parental responsibility and what are Child Arrangements Orders (CAOs)?

Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility denotes the right of a parent to be involved in the key decisions relating to a child’s welfare, such as:

  • Education – which school children attend.
  • Identity – what name or surname children adopt and any changes in their name or surname while they are minors.
  • Health – what medical treatment children can receive, such as vaccinations or operations.
  • Religion – which religion the children should follow.

Mothers automatically have parental responsibility for their children.  Fathers will have parental responsibility if their children are born during the marriage, or in cases after 2003, if they are registered on their children’s birth certificates.  In other cases, fathers need to acquire parental responsibility either by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother, or by making an application to court.

Stepparents who are married to, or in a civil partnership with, their stepchild’s parent, do not have parental responsibility. They can acquire it only with the consent of both of the child’s parents or by making an application to court.

Grandparents do not have parental responsibility for their grandchildren, although may find themselves in a position of adopting a parental role for their grandchildren when a relationship or marriage breaks down.  In such circumstances, grandparents may obtain parental responsibility rights by applying to court for a Child Arrangements Order.

Child Arrangements Orders

For families going through a separation or divorce, one of the most important considerations for parents is the future arrangements for their children.  These arrangements will principally include where and with whom the children will live and how often they will see the other parent. There may also be some consideration for the role played by other people in the children’s lives including grandparents, extended family members, stepparents or former partners.

These arrangements are for the children’s parents to try and agree upon in the first instance.  In the absence of agreement however, alternative ways of resolving disagreements such as mediation, collaborative law, working with a Family Consultant or arbitration are strongly encouraged.  These options are open to parents and non-parents alike.

Where an amicable agreement is not possible and / or where an alternative form of dispute resolution breaks down, an application can be made to court for a judge to determine the living arrangements for the children and / or how much time the children should spend with another party.  The Orders that can be made by the court in these circumstances are ‘Child Arrangements Orders’ and depending on the application made, can also be referred to as ‘Live With’ and ‘Spend Time with’ Orders.

In making a decision, the court will have the children’s welfare as its primary consideration, applying the following welfare checklist:

  • The wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of their age and understanding).
  • The physical, emotional and educational needs of the child.
  • The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances.
  • The age, sex, background and any characteristics of the child which the court considers relevant.
  • Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
  • How capable each of the child’s parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting their needs.
  • The range of powers available to the court under this Act (Children Act 1989) in the proceedings in question.

It is worth noting that applicants who do not have parental responsibility, including grandparents will first need to seek the permission of the court to apply for a Child Arrangements Order.  In deciding whether to give its permission, the court considers a separate checklist of factors from the welfare checklist set out above.  These include:

  • The nature of the application.
  • The applicant’s connection to the child(ren).
  • Any risk of the application disrupting the child(ren)’s life.
  • Whether the child is being looked after by the Local Authority.
  • The Local Authority’s plans for the child(ren)’s future.
  • The wishes and feelings of the child(ren)’s parents.

If the court grants permission to the application being made for a Child Arrangements Order, it then considers the basis for that application along with the welfare checklist above.

At Tisshaws, we recognise the meaningful role that parents, and non-parents, play in children’s lives after a separation or divorce and are experienced in helping to resolve the legal issues relating to children and parental responsibility.  While we strive to resolve these issues as amicably as possible and offer alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation and collaborative law, we are adept on advising on applications for Child Arrangements Orders and representing our clients in court proceedings.

If you would like any further advice about this or any other aspect of separation and divorce, we offer an initial consultation of up to one hour for £50.00 (incl. VAT).  To book, please contact 01444 472700 or info@tisshawssolicitors.co.uk.

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