Family Law

Family Law

A Guide to Child Disputes

Disputes between parents and family members over the upbringing of children can be emotionally taxing and legally complex. The best interests of the child in question needs to be at the forefront of any decision-making process, but sometimes, the best way forward can be unclear when a stressful dispute arises. 

In many cases, mediation can help to resolve these matters, but sometimes it may be necessary to get the courts involved. This can be a big step for many families, which is why it’s vital that everyone involved has a good understanding of how this process works. 

Read on for more information about how child disputes can be legally resolved, courtesy of the family law experts at Clough & Willis. 

How can the courts intervene to resolve child disputes?

Family courts can be used to resolve a number of different types of dispute, with the type of court order used depends on the topic of the disagreement: 

  • Child Arrangements Order decides where your child lives, when your child spends time with each parent, or what other types of contact might take place (such as phone calls)
  • Specific Issue Order is used to examine a specific question about how the child is being brought up - for example, what school they attend, or whether they should have a religious education
  • Prohibited Steps Order can be used to stop another parent from making a decision about the child’s upbringing that you oppose 

The current rules governing child disputes are laid out in the Children and Families Act 2014, which does not include any automatic entitlement to 'shared parenting'. This means that parents have no presumed right to any particular amount of time with a child; instead, the act refers to the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both parents after a family separation, as long as this is considered to be safe and in their best interests. 

A meaningful relationship is not about equal division of time, but the quality of parenting received. There is therefore a presumption that a child will benefit by retaining contact with both parents, and that contact should take place unless it can be shown to be detrimental to their welfare. 

As such, any parent pursuing legal methods to prevent contact between their child and another parent must show good reason why this should be the case. 

How is parental responsibility determined?

The mother of a child automatically acquires parental responsibility at birth. A father can gain parental responsibility in the following ways: 

  • Through marriage to the mother, at any time
  • By both parents entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement
  • Through a court order
  • By being named as the child’s father on the birth certificate with the mother’s consent, for any children born after December 1st 2003 

A step-parent may also acquire parental responsibility by court order, with the agreement of the child’s existing parents. However, it is worth bearing in mind any person with parental responsibility may delegate it to another individual at any time via a simple letter, a method often used for grandparents acting as child-minders. 

What do parental responsibilities include?

A person with parental responsibilities has all of the rights and obligations involved in bringing up a child. If more than one person holds these responsibilities, it becomes their duty to consult everyone involved on any issue concerning a child's upbringing; in the event of dispute, an application may need to be made to the Court for a Specific Issue Order to resolve the matter. 

Key roles include: 

  • Providing the child with a suitable home
  • Having contact with or living with the child
  • Protecting and maintaining the child
  • Disciplining and providing for the child's education
  • Determining their religious upbringing (if any)
  • Agreeing to medical treatment
  • Naming the child and agreeing to any change of name
  • Accompanying the child outside the UK, and agreeing to the child's emigration should the issue arise
  • Being responsible for the child's property
  • Appointing a guardian if necessary - for example, in a will
  • Allowing confidential information about the child to be disclosed 

What legal processes are in place for when a child is abducted or taken abroad?

The removal of a child from the UK, with the intent for this to be a permanent move, is a criminal offence under the Child Abduction Act 1984 if it is done without the consent of any other person with parental responsibility and without the permission of the Court. 

Likewise, a person with a Residence Order may not remove a child from the UK for more than a month without the permission of the Court, or without the written consent of every individual with parental responsibility for the child in question. 

If you believe your child may be immediately removed from the UK (eg, within 48 hours), you should contact the police and request they institute an "All Ports Alert". Providing a photograph of the child will be helpful in these instances. 

In all child-related matters, the welfare of the child is treated as paramount. There will be numerous specific factors taken into account in the Court's decision on how to adjudicate the case, and all of the circumstances will be considered. 

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At Clough & Willis, we have a great deal of experience in dealing with different types of family matters. Our team of specialist solicitors will provide clear, easy-to-understand advice to guide you through what can be a stressful legal process and will work our hardest to get you the best possible outcome for you

Give our expert family law solicitors a call on 0800 083 0815, or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of the team will be in touch.

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