Parental Responsibility – not as scary as it sounds

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What is Parental Responsibility?

If your child was born after 1st December 2003, you weren’t married to your ex and he’s not on the birth certificate, he can apply to the court for Parental Responsibility.

Legally defined parental responsibility (PR) means, “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.” I found out during my own case that in reality, it’s not as scary as it sounds.

Your ex being granted parental responsibility gives him the right to have his say on the important stuff. This could be changing your child’s surname, medical treatment, moving abroad or what school they should attend.

No need to worry…

Parental responsibility doesn’t mean that you have to consult with your ex over every little thing. It doesn’t mean that your ex can tell you how to be a mum. By law, the day-to-day parenting decisions are made by the resident parent without interference from the non-resident parent.

Parental Responsibility and your case

In most cases there is no good reason for a father to be denied parental responsibility. Therefore if you really feel strongly about your ex not having PR, you will need to make your valid reasons known to the court. You will need to explain why you have refused parental responsibility, if you have. You will also need to convince the magistrates that they should not go against you by granting PR.

Though it’s rare for the courts to refuse a father parental responsibility, there have been exceptions. For example:

  • (Re H (Parental Responsibility)[1998]) – In this case the father displayed cruel behaviour towards his child and injured the child.
  • (Re P (Parental Responsibility)[1998])– The father in this case was found with obscene photographs of children.
  • (Re M (Contact: Parental Responsibility)[2001]) – In this case the courts felt that granting PR would undermine the mother’s ability to care for her disabled child and thus cause unnecessary stress.

You can see from the above examples that the reasons the courts had for not granting PR were all extremely valid. Your own reasons would need to be equally as valid if your desired outcome is for the courts to not grant PR. For more information on convincing the magistrates, take a look at Persuading with Proof makes a Convincing Case

Finally…

Think about what your ex having parental responsibility really means in practical terms. It doesn’t mean that you need your ex’s consent for every school trip. It does mean that he will be able to get school reports sent directly to him, is that so bad? Remember that parental responsibility is not a bat to beat you with. Day-to-day parenting is handled by the resident parent. Rational thinking can be difficult as a litigant. Let Emotion & Reason – 5 Steps to Creating a Balanced Argument show you the wood through the trees.

Has this information been helpful? Leave a comment to show your support for other mothers facing family court without a solicitor.

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Court Orders – What are they and what do they mean?

In family proceedings the court’s decision will be in the form of a Order. Court Orders are mandatory instructions from the court that you must abide by.

In most cases, it’s the parents of the child who make an application to the court for an Order. However, the Children’s Act does allow for someone other than the parents to be able to apply for orders that relate to a child’s upbringing. The court will consider the nature of a persons connection with the child before making any decisions.

Court Orders

The court orders regularly used in family proceedings can be found under section 8 of the Children’s Act 1989:

  • Parental Responsibility Order
  • Child Arrangements Order
  • Prohibited Steps Order
  • Specific Issue Order
What do they mean?
  1. Parental Responsibility Orders give fathers the chance to gain PR when the mother refuses to allow the father on the birth certificate or refuses to sign a Parental Responsibility  Agreement. Step-parents, guardians and 2nd female parents can also apply for Parental Responsibility.
  2. Child Arrangements Orders replace ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ orders. This order decides where your child lives, when your child spends time with each parent and what other types of contact can take place e.g. phone calls. If he does not already have it, a father is granted parental responsibility as part of a Child Arrangement Order.
  3. Prohibited Steps Order stops the person named in the Order from doing certain actions without the courts permission. This could be taking the child out of the country or making a decision about the child’s upbringing e.g. relocation.
  4. Specific Issue Order gives instructions about a particular element of a child’s upbringing. This could be what school they attend, the religion that the child is raised in, whether they should have a religious education or any other aspect of parental responsibility.

When making an order the court will take the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child into consideration. The older the child the more weight their wants and wishes will carry. It is important that you don’t try to influence your child’s view but instead support their wishes. If they are too young to make decisions, your argument should focus on what you think is in the best of interests of your child and why.

Is there anything that you could add to help another mother represent herself in family court? Leave a comment and show your support.

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The Welfare Checklist

What is ‘The Welfare Checklist’?

The Welfare Checklist is a list of 7 criteria that the courts use when making decisions during family law proceedings. It can be found fully in section one of the Children’s Act 1989:

  1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child – in light of their age and understanding.
  2. The physical, emotional and educational needs of the child.
  3. The likely effect of any change on the child’s circumstances.
  4. The age, sex, background and any other characteristics which the court considers relevant.
  5. Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
  6. How capable the child’s parents (and/or any other relevant person) are of meeting the child’s needs.
  7. The range of powers available to the court.

The court must consider the checklist when deciding to make an order in contested proceedings. It can significantly strengthen your own position to cross-reference your argument against the criteria of the Welfare Checklist.

Breaking it down…
  1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child: What does your child want? If your child is young in age and/or understanding, what do you think they would want and why?
  2. Physical, emotional and educational needs of child: What is your involvement in meeting the physical, emotional and educational needs of your child? What involvement does your ex have in meeting those needs?
  3. The likely effect on your child of any changes in their current circumstances: What is your child’s usual routine? Would a change in their routine be positive or negative for your child? Why?
  4. Age, sex, background and characteristics the court considers relevant: Your case is just one of many so, make the court aware of the points that make your case individual. Does your child’s background affect your case? Does your child have any characteristics that are relevant to the case?
  5. Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering: ‘Harm’ can mean both physical and mental. Has your child been harmed or at risk of being harmed? Are you able to protect your child from harm? Would an order put your child at risk of harm? Why?
  6. How capable each parent is of meeting the child’s needs. Are you capable of meeting your child’s needs? Why are you the best person to meet your child’s needs? How does this compare to the abilities of your ex in meeting your child’s needs? Do you have any concerns about your ex’s ability to meet your child’s needs? 
  7. The range of powers available to the court under The Children Act 1989. The courts prefer reasonable agreement between the parties and private arrangements often work better than court orders. What do you want the court to do? How can your case be resolved?
Your case…

Checking your position against the Welfare Checklist can strengthen and give your argument structure. It will help if you can guess how your ex will respond to the 7 points of the Welfare Checklist. Anticipating the responses of the other parties will leave you better prepared to counter and respond to them.

Has this post helped? Leave a comment and show your support to other mothers facing court without a solicitor. #mothers4justice2

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Contact—Whose right is it anyway?

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At family court, disagreements over contact are common. Representing yourself can be made easier by accepting, every child has the right to a relationship with both parentsso long as it doesn’t bring them harm. It isn’t about what’s best for you or what’s best for your ex. As difficult as it may be, a contact case can only be about what is best for your child

The child’s right to contact

The important thing to remember as a Litigant, is that the court will definitely expect some form of contact between a child and their non-resident parent. Contact can range from phone calls and letters to face-to-face visits and overnight stays. The scope for facilitating contact is vast and the type and frequency should depend on what is practical and what will be best for the child.

There is no entitlement to 50% of  a child’s time.

Children are not a possession and a parent has no automatic right to contact that would negatively impact a child’s welfare, needs or human rights. However, it’s worth noting that even in cases where concerns are raised, there is always the option of supervised contact arrangements. It is extremely rare for the court to accept that there should be no contact between a child and their non-resident parent.

Contact – be prepared!

I’ve learnt from my own experience that negotiation and compromise are essential when representing yourself in a contact case. Answer the following questions to help get your case ready to present to the magistrates:

  • Why can you and your ex not agree on the contact arrangements for your child?
  • Do your disputes come from emotion or valid reasoning?
  • Do you have any concerns regarding contact?
  • What is your proposal for the type and frequency of contact?
  • Are you being fair?
  • Why is your proposal in the best interests of your child?

For you as a Litigant, an argument concentrated only on what you think is best for your child will hold more weight than one that aims to withhold contact or discredit the ex.

What do you think? Leave a comment and help empower other mothers representing themselves at family court. Check out Emotion & Reason – 5 Steps to Creating a Balanced Argument for more advice on getting your case ready for the magistrates.

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