Ask the Solicitor: Do I need to let my ex have a say in the decisions that affect my son?

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Today we continue our series of legal advice articles called Ask the Solicitor, in partnership with Altrincham law firm Hill and Company. You can read the previous articles here.

Once again this week, it’s family solicitor Dan Knox.

Q

Dear Dan, 

I separated from my little boy’s dad when my son Jack was only six months old, and he is now four. My ex-partner has never really had much to do with Jack and although he saw him occasionally after our relationship broke down, he has never provided for him financially and this contact petered out. 

My ex has now indicated that he would like to be involved in the decisions in Jack’s life. I don’t really see that he has any right, given that he doesn’t help to support Jack, and has at best been what I would describe as a part-time father.  My ex is named as the father on Jack’s birth certificate. Will this have any implications in the future when it comes to making decisions about Jack? 

Thanks, Stacy

A

Thank you for your enquiry, Stacy.

The situation you describe relates to the issue of parents obtaining parental responsibility (PR) for a child. 

Parental responsibility is defined as being all of the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.

The term parental responsibility tends to focus on the parent’s duties towards their child rather than the parents’ rights over their child. I think that this is an important distinction and one that can often be lost, especially when relationships break down and parents are no longer on good terms.

Who has parental responsibility?

  • Mothers automatically have PR if they give birth to the child
  • Fathers who are married to or in a civil partnership with the mother automatically have PR and will not lose it if divorced or the civil partnership is dissolved
  • Fathers who are not married to or in a civil partnership with the mother do not automatically have PR

How can fathers who are not married to or in a civil partnership with the mother obtain PR?

A father who is not married to or in a civil partnership with the mother can obtain PR by: 

  • Marrying or entering into civil partnership with the mother 
  • Having his name registered or re-registered on the birth certificate if his name is not already registered
  • Entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
  • Obtaining a parental responsibility order from the court
  • Being named as the resident under a child arrangement order.

Therefore, it follows that as Jack’s dad is named on his birth certificate, he has PR for Jack. 

Practically speaking, having parental responsibility means that when certain decisions have to be taken about a child, all those with PR for the child are allowed to have a say in those decision. These decisions should be about the upbringing of the child. Day-to-day decisions should be taken by the parent with whom the child is residing at that time. I think from the facts this would be you. This should be done without interference from the other parental responsibility holders. 

In practice, having parental responsibility for a child means the power to make important decisions, including those within the following non-exhaustive list: 

  • Determining the child’s education and where the child goes to school
  • Registering or changing the child’s name
  • Consenting to a child’s operation or other medical treatment
  • Accessing medical records
  • Consenting to take the child abroad for holidays or extended stays
  • Determining the religion the child should be brought up with

So theoretically you should include Jack’s dad in all of the decisions made which are about Jack’s upbringing. Jack is four and will soon be going to primary school, Jack’s dad should be involved in this process. 

Do all parental responsibility holders have to agree before a decision can be made?

In most cases, decisions can be taken by one parental responsibility holder. For example, a school may only need consent from one person with PR to take the child on a school trip. 

Where there is a major decision to be made about a child’s life, all those with PR will need to agree, for example if one parent wants to change the name of the child, move abroad with the child or have the child set up for adoption. 

If parents are unable to agree about a decision concerning the upbringing of the child, one option would be to attend family mediation and the other potential option that we would advise would be for either party to apply to the court for a specific issue order or a prohibitive steps order. 

You do not need to have parental responsibility to take this step. Each of the orders named above effectively ask the court to make a decision on behalf of the parents and that decision will be based upon what the court thinks is in the best interests of the child.

This is a fairly complex area of law and there are a number of grey areas. For this reason, I would advise that you seek the advice of a solicitor as to how the law applies to your specific circumstances.

If you would like any more information in relation to parental responsibility, or any other legal issue, you can contact Dan or one of our other trusted legal advisors here at Hill and Company by telephone on 0161 928 3201.

Family solicitor Dan Knox, from Hill and Company Solicitors

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