As parents we all know the joys and rewards of having children. Though along with the rewards comes a life time of responsibility for our children which extends beyond the dynamics of parent –child relationships to the legal responsibility of parents.
In family law parental responsibility is a legal term which reflects the rights of a parent to be involved in making decisions in the best interests of their children. This term is defined in the Children (Northern Ireland) 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”.
In regards to the issue of separation, often fathers in Northern Ireland are not aware that they do not have an automatic parental responsibility for their child. Where the parents are married to each other or alternatively if both the father and mother have jointly adopted children, they both have parental responsibility. This is not the case however when the parents are not married to one another.
Legally, in Northern Ireland every mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child as does every father who is married to the mother at the time of the birth. However, fathers who do fall outside this category can legally acquire parental responsibility after the birth in a number of ways, for instance:
- A father of a child who was born after 1st December 2003 acquires parental responsibility if his name has been put on the child’s birth certificate;
- Both parents can enter a parental responsibility agreement;
- The Court can make a Parental Responsibility Order.
If the court makes an order for the child to reside with the father he will obtain parental responsibility by virtue of that order.
In practical terms what does parental responsibility mean?
In terms of education, for example, any parent with responsibility has the right to be involved in choosing their child’s school, to be notified of school events and to be sent copies of the child’s school reports. It also includes issues such as providing consent in regards to what information is released about your child, protecting and providing for your child and having an input as to how your child is disciplined.
This extends to other vital areas in a child’s upbringing including health and religion. Parents with responsibility also have the right to give consent to medical treatment, to determine their child’s religion, to be involved in choosing their child’s name and to agree to any change of name.
In summary, Parental Responsibility provides the parent with decision making ability in regards to the following aspect of a child’s life:
- providing a home for your child
- protecting and maintaining your child;
- choosing the school in which your child will be educated
- determining the religious upbringing of your child
- consenting to your child's medical treatment;
- providing or allowing any confidential information about your child which is requested to be disclosed
- naming your child and agreeing to any change of your child's name;
- applying for a passport for your child;
- accompanying your child outside of the United Kingdom and agreeing to the child' emigration
- being responsible for your child's property, for instance when the child inherits property at an early age;
- appointing a guardian for your child
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.