Parental Responsibility and contact orders - the same thing?
This article was written before changes bought about by the Children & Families Act 2014, in which contact and residence orders were replaced by 'child arrangement orders'.
Parental Responsibility is defined in law 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 essence, this is the law officially recognising you as your child’s father and giving you the same rights as any other parent. But what does this mean and how specific is it? This is what causes confusion for fathers who have just obtained or are considering obtaining Parental Responsibility for their child.
Obtaining Parental Responsibility for your child puts you on an equal basis with mother and gives you the legal right to have a say in your child’s upbringing. It is sadly often the case that a break-up between parents often becomes so acrimonious that the children are used as tools to hurt each other. Therefore if you wish to have a say in your child’s upbringing it is always a good idea to obtain Parental Responsibility. It doesn’t generally deal with day-to-day issues but can include the right to be consulted on such issues as where your child goes to school, consenting to medical treatment and even religious issues which may affect your child. Of course plenty of couples separate on an amicable basis and put arrangements in place by agreement between them and so Parental Responsibility is not raised as an issue.
Having Parental Responsibility also gives you the legal right to see your child. However, it does not guarantee that you will get contact with your child, although it is usually considered the first step towards it. The two are separate issues and therefore, must be treated as such.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being denied the opportunity to see your child then you will require the Courts to make a court order. This can determine how often and where you see your child based on the circumstances of the case and a checklist of other factors, such as any previous contact that has taken place, where the parties live, the ages of the children and (depending on their age) the views of the children. The Courts will make a decision based on what they consider to be in the child’s best interests. Plenty of unmarried fathers have obtained Contact Orders for their children in the past so the issue of Parental Responsibility is not necessarily a deciding factor, although most applicants tended to apply for Parental Responsibility at the same as they apply for a Contact Order.
Of course, it is hoped that most parents do not need the intervention of the Courts in order to agree arrangements and contact with their children can often be agreed between them without the issue of Parental Responsibility cropping up. However, it is important for all fathers to remember (even those married to mother previously) that Parental Responsibility means lots of different things and provides rights on various issues as detailed above. But it does not guarantee that you will get contact with your child. If no agreement can be reached voluntarily with mother then a separate application must be made to the Court for an Order.
Woolley & Co can talk you through the processes involved if you feel you need to obtain Parental Responsibility and/or apply for a Child Arrangement Order.
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