Children Disputes

Disputes between parents about their children are common.

Parental Responsibility

What is parental responsibility?

The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of parental responsibility, which was a deliberate shift aware from the idea that parents have 'rights' over their child towards the idea that they have 'responsibilities' towards their child. Parental power to control a child is not for the benefit of the parents but for that of the child. The Act defines this term as 'all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property'. In reality, it gives the parent responsibility for taking all the important decisions in the child's life, for example, education, religion and medical care. It also enables a parent to take day-to-day decisions, for example, in relation to nutrition, recreation and outings. The duties involved in parental responsibility will change from time to time with differing needs and circumstances, and vary with the age and maturity of the child.

Married parents have joint parental responsibility for their child. An unmarried mother has parental responsibility but an unmarried father does not, although he can acquire it by:

  • (a) registration on the child's birth certificate;
  • (b) court order;
  • (c) child arrangements order;
  • ( d) parental responsibility agreement;
  • (e) guardianship;
  • (f) marriage to mother.

Other persons can also acquire parental responsibility.

Child Arrangements Order

Child arrangements orders have been introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014 and they replace residence and contact orders. Residence orders were used before April 2014 to settle the arrangements as to with whom a child should live, and contact orders required the person with whom the child lived to allow the child to visit or otherwise have contact with the person named in the order.

A child arrangements order means an order regulating arrangements relating to:

(a) with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact; and
(b) when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person.

Prohibited steps order

A prohibited steps order is an order that no step that could be taken by a parent in meeting his or her parental responsibilities for a child and which is of a kind specified in the order, shall be taken by any person without the consent of the court. It can be used to restrict anyone, not just a parent. So it could be used to prevent a grandparent with whom the child lived from removing the child from the jurisdiction.

Specific issue order

A specific issue order is an order giving directions for the purpose of determining a specific question that has arisen, or which may arise in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child.
It could be used to decide which school a child should attend, whether a child should have a particular operation (including, for example, sterilisation or circumcision) or course of treatment or immunisation (such as the MMR vaccination), or the religion a child should adopt.

Welfare Principle

When a court determines any question with respect to the upbringing of a child, then the child's welfare is the court's paramount consideration.
When applying the welfare principle, the court must pay attention to various factors including:

  • (a) the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child;
  • (b) the child's physical, emotional and educational needs;
  • (c) the likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances;
  • (d) the child's age, sex, background, etc;
  • (e) any harm the child has suffered/may suffer;
  • (f) the capability of the parents (and other relevant people) to care for the child.

If you are seeking legal advice and/or need representation to act for you in respect of any of the above matters then please call 01344 622141 or email