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Family Law Blog

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Conflict over different parenting styles

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Parenting styles and parents rights.

In the wake of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s split — which was reportedly fuelled by disagreement over differing parenting styles – I wonder to what extent this was a key factor in the breakdown of the relationship, or whether it is only now becoming a major issue as a result of the separation. 

In my experience, different parenting styles is rarely a major factor cited in divorce petitions, however, following separation, it is not at all unusual for different parenting styles to become a source of conflict and dispute. 

I frequently receive calls from separated parents who are concerned and dismayed by the actions of their former partner when it comes to how they are raising the children whilst in their care. These concerns sometimes surround what they are allowing the children to do or what they have told the children. Sometimes the disagreement has arisen as a result of one parent informing the children they can do something the other parent does not agree with or perhaps one parent has introduced the children to their new partner without the other parent’s knowledge or consent. 

The parents who call me often want to know whether there is anything they can do to address their concerns and frustrations. The answer to this question will always depend on the specific circumstances of that particular family, however there are some fundamental principles which underlie the extent to which separated parents and/or the court can interfere with and police the parenting style of the other.

Parental responsibility

Where both parents have parental responsibility for the children, they both have equal parenting rights and responsibilities. 

People with parental responsibility are entitled to have a say in any major decisions affecting the child, such as:

  • where the child should live
  • where they should go to school
  • what religion they should practice
  • what name they should have and
  • the giving or withholding of medical treatment

Parental responsibility does not, however, entitle someone to interfere with day-to-day parenting decisions. Inevitably, when the children are in the care of one parent, that parent will be setting their own boundaries for the children and making run of the mill decisions about what the children eat, what time they go to bed, what they watch on television etc. The other parent may not always agree, but a court is going to be reluctant to intervene, unless either:-

  • the parenting style of one parent is jeopardising the children’s welfare; or
  • the question involves a major decision for that child, such as those listed above.

The children’s’ welfare

Courts and parents alike have a duty to protect the children’s welfare and the child’s welfare is the paramount consideration when an application is made to the court concerning a child’s upbringing.

Sometimes it is clear that the children are being exposed to harm or potential harm by the actions of one parent, in which case the legal system can intervene and a parent can ask the court to make an order prohibiting certain behaviour. Sometimes, however, this line is not as clear. The question parents need to ask themselves is does the parenting style place the children is harms way or potentially cause them harm? If the answer is yes, then it may be necessary to take steps to address the situation.

Major parenting decisions

If the dispute concerns a decision which will have far reaching consequences for a child such as those in the bullet point list above, the other parent with parental responsibility is entitled to have a say. In the event the parents do not agree, the court can be asked to settle the dispute and make the final decision. Again, the child’s welfare is the paramount consideration.

Sian Winter
Family law solicitor, Bicester

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