As all fathers will know, along with the rewards of having children comes a lifetime of responsibility. It is the job of both parents to ensure that this responsibility is taken seriously and exercised in the best interests of their children.

This can sometimes be difficult to achieve when the parent’s relationship breaks down. Separation, particularly when the father and child no longer live together, can leave a father feeling like his role in his child’s life is somehow diminished and less important.

This does not have to be the case. As a father, you can have Parental Responsibility for your child.

What is Parental Responsibility?

Parental Responsibility is the legal term for the rights of each parent to be involved in making decisions in the best interest of their children.

It is defined in the Children (NI) Order 1995 as ‘all rights, duties, powers and responsibilities and authority which by law a parent has in relation to the child and his property.’

Do I have Parental Responsibility?

If you are married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, you automatically get Parental Responsibility.

If you and the child’s mother are not married, Parental Responsibility is not automatic but you can get it n the following ways:-

  • If your child is born after December 2003 and you are named on the birth certificate

  • Through a formal written agreement with the mother

  • By obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the Court

  • By having a Residence Order in respect of your child.

What difference does having Parental Responsibility make?

Parental Responsibility is not a label to be worn by a father.

In practical terms, this responsibility gives you as the child’s father the right, for example:

  • To be involved in choosing their school

  • To be kept informed of their progress at school and sent copies of school reports.

  • To give consent to medical treatment

  • To determine your child’s religion

  • To be involved in choosing their child’s name and to agree any change in surname.

I have separated from my child’s mother – do I still have rights?

The short answer is yes. Parental Responsibility goes some way to ensuring that you can continue to have a pro-active and beneficial input into your child’s life. Where parents separate, it will often be the case that they can work out themselves where their children are to live and how much time they will spend with each parent.

However, if you cannot agree arrangement with your child’s mother, then you can apply to the Court and ask it to make decisions that are deemed to be in the best interests of your child.

  • The Court can decide where and with whom your child should live. This is known as a Residence Order.

  • In some cases, the Court may make a Joint Residence Order in favour of both parents, where the contact arrangements are such that your child will be spending time living in both your home and their mum’s home.

  • If your child lives with mum, the Court can decide on how much contact you can have with your child. This is known as a Contact Order.

 

Although in an ideal world it is better where possible for parents to agree issues concerning their children, the law is there to guarantee your child’s right to enjoy a relationship with both parents where this is in their best interests.

The Children (Northern Ireland) Order stresses that parents are to have continued responsibility for their children and continuing involvement in the child or children's upbringing, even if they have separated. 

Where two parents with parental responsibility disagree about how these rights are exercised they may apply to the court to determine these issues.  Prior to this it is recommended that parents get in touch with a solicitor who practises in family law.

For further information on all aspects of family law or for a free, no obligation discussion please contact 028 9024 3901 or contact us online using the contact us form.

[1]The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 is available for download at http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si1995/uksi_19950755_en_1