Child arrangements cases can be a source of great worry and anxiety – and often come at a time when life already feels very stressful and uncertain.
Navigating parental rights and responsibilities in the aftermath of a separation can seem like an uphill struggle, especially if you’re unable to see eye-to-eye with your former partner or communicate amicably. That feeling can be exacerbated when the courts become involved.
Understanding some of the terms used in conjunction with Child Arrangements cases can help to remove some of the stress and confusion often felt in these circumstances.
What are parental rights?
The term ‘parental rights’ is not commonly used by the Family Court. The closest term that may apply is ‘parental responsibility’. Rather than a right, it places a ‘responsibility’ on that person to be involved in decision making in respect of the child and to consult with/obtain consent from, the other parent – especially if they also have ‘parental responsibility’.
If you are the non-resident parent but you have parental responsibility, you have the ‘right’ to be involved and consulted in respect of parenting decisions and your consent is required for more significant decisions.
If you do not have parental responsibility, then the other parent with parental responsibility does not need to involve or consult you, or seek your consent in many circumstances. However, child focussed good practice would suggest that they still do so.
What is parental responsibility and how do you acquire it?
Parental responsibilities are specific duties of care that you must carry out for your child – for example, to ensure they have food, clothing, and shelter. It also means you can make decisions relating to medical care, such as any operations that may be necessary, and decide under which religion the child should be brought up.
Parental responsibility is automatically awarded to the mother upon the birth of the child. That isn’t the case for the child’s father. For a father to obtain parental responsibility, he must be named on the birth certificate, be married to the mother when the child is born or apply to the courts to obtain parental responsibility.
Other individuals can also apply for parental rights, including stepparents and grandparents. Anyone appointed as a guardian to the child automatically obtains parental responsibility.
In certain circumstances, additional parties may be granted parental responsibility. For example, if a local authority successfully applies for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) for a child at immediate risk of significant harm, the local authority will temporarily hold parental responsibility for that child.
It’s important to note that holding parental responsibility doesn’t automatically confer certain rights as you might expect. For example, having parental responsibility doesn’t mean that you automatically have the right to spend time with your child or have regular access to them. If you’re separated and you can’t agree with your former partner about where the child should live or how much time they should spend with each parent, you’ll need to go to court to obtain a Child Arrangement Order.
Does adultery affect divorce settlement & child arrangements?
Before the law changed in 2022 to permit ‘no fault’ divorces, separating couples would need to specify grounds for divorce when seeking to legally dissolve their marriage. One of those five grounds was adultery. The need to apportion blame led many to believe that adultery could influence the divorce’s financial settlement or be a factor in determining child arrangements.
That wasn’t the case prior to 2022 and is not the case today. An extramarital affair does not automatically grant the other person a more favourable divorce settlement or mean that they will be awarded more time with the child in any subsequent child arrangement order made by the courts.
If you’re facing a child arrangements case, it’s important that you seek experienced legal counsel to ensure a favourable outcome as early as possible. National Legal Service’s team has vast expertise in family law and can support you throughout the legal process. Contact us today to find out more.