Children law in England ranges from private law matters which includes issues such as residency and contact orders, child maintenance agreements and mediation to public law matters including local authority involvement with children and child protection services.
Parental responsibility is “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”.
If the child’s parents are married then both of them have parental responsibility.
If they are unmarried, the father doesn’t automatically have parental responsibility but can apply to the courts for this.
More than one person can have parental responsibility, although they can act alone in decision making for the child.
If a child does not have anyone with parental responsibility, to care for them a guardian can be appointed by the court.
When parents separate they need to agree where their children will live as well as how much time they will spend with each parent.
Wherever possible, we encourage parents to make their own child arrangements.
This usually takes the form of an informal agreement between both parents, but it can help to write the decisions you’ve made down.
Sometimes it is just isn’t possible for parents to reach an agreement without some form of outside intervention.
In these instances, as well as in cases of domestic violence/abuse you may need to go to court to make the arrangements.
Child maintenance is an arrangement between separated parents and covers how the child’s living costs will be paid for when one of the parents no longer lives with them (or if you’ve never been in a relationship).
Both parents are responsible for the costs of raising their children, even if they do not see them. Child access agreements are made separately and have no bearing on Child Maintenance.
Child maintenance is usually paid by the parent who doesn’t usually live with the child to the parent or carer who has most day-to-day care of the child. Child maintenance is also known as ‘child support’.
If a Child maintenance agreement cannot be reached the resident parent can make an application to the Child Maintenance Service.
In more extreme situations, such as when either parent lives outside of the UK or when the non-resident parent is classed as a ‘higher-earner’, an application to court will be required to address the issue of child maintenance.
If you need more help agreeing child arrangements, you can go to mediation. It’s much easier and cheaper than going to court for help. It is also often a much quicker solution for resolving the situation.
During mediation you will speak to a ‘mediator’, who will try and help you both agree on how to work out your arrangements between yourselves in order to avoid the stress and costs of going to court.
You are not obliged to attend mediation, however if you think you might go to court later you’ll need to prove you went to an introductory meeting called a ‘mediation information and assessment meeting’ (MIAM).
During the introductory mediation meeting you’ll find out what mediation is and how it can help you.
There are exceptions when you don’t have to go to a MIAM first – for example, if you’ve suffered domestic abuse. In these cases you can apply to the court straight away and can often also get help to pay for a solicitor.
Although we advise parents to try and resolve their child issues themselves or through mediation there are a range of court orders that can be applied for depending on your own circumstances.
Prohibited steps order: Prevents a parent from exercising their full parental responsibility without consent of the court.
Residence order: Puts in place the arrangements for whom a child should live with.
Child arrangement order: In addition to determining where your child lives, also specifies when they spend time with each parent and what types of contact take place (such as emails, phone calls, skype).
Specific issue order: Deals with a particular issue that you cannot agree on such as what school the child should attend, whether they should have a religious education or whether they should move out of the jurisdiction.
Children’s welfare is the number one concern of the courts. This means ensuring their well-being, health care, and human rights are all being looked after to a high standard, safeguarding them from abuse and neglect.
The Children’s Act centres around the idea that children are best cared for within their own families; however, it also deals with cases when parents and families are not the best option to do this.
The court will only make a court order if they think it is in the best interests of the child.
Where possible the court will take the child’s feelings and wishes into account, as well as their emotional, physical and educational needs.
They will also think about the effects that any changes may have on the child, and anything that could put them at risk.