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Parental Responsibility: What Does it Mean?

By December 5, 2019Advice

In the 1989 Children Act, the term ‘Parental Responsibility’ is an important one, but it can be tricky to put into practice as there are lots of grey areas that need navigating. The definition is as follows:

‘the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’.

When put practically, Parental Responsibility means that parents have an important part to play when it comes to major decisions over the child, such as travelling abroad, name changes, medical situations and education.

But does this apply to the everyday decisions you make as a parent? The Divorce Manager takes a look at the ins and outs of Parental Responsibility, to give a clear summary of how it applies to normal, day-to-day situations of care.

When parents break up or get divorced, both parties retain the same responsibilities and rights regarding their children and any decisions that are made on behalf of them. This is rather obvious and easy to implement when it comes to big decisions, but it can be trickier to navigate when it comes to the ordinary, everyday decisions, decisions like:

  • What decision should I make if my 10-year-old wants to watch a 12-rated film?
  • Who do I introduce into my child(ren)’s life?
  • What kinds of activities are appropriate for my child to participate in?

One case that can help explore this is A v A [2004] EWHC 142 (Fam), in which two separated parents were struggling to agree on what was best for their children.

Eventually, and after extensive court, youth service and psychology professionals’ intervention, a decision was reached and the parents created a schedule that worked for them. The Judge lauded the parents’ decision to balance their own personal child-rearing choices with mutual decisions. They decided on the following schedule:

1) There were decisions that could be made by each parent without having to consult or notify the other:

  • What the child gets up to when they’re together
  • Personal care choices
  • Any activities the child undertakes during contact
  • Religious or spiritual activities
  • Ongoing GP-prescribed medical treatments

2) It was agreed that certain decisions would require the other parent to be informed before it happened:

  • Emergency medical treatments
  • Overseas holidays and travel with the child
  • Planned doctors’ visits

3) Other decisions required the parents to be informed and consulted before happening:

  • School applications, especially with regards to secondary school, in which the child’s views and that of school staff are both taken into account
  • Timetables of contact time during holidays from school
  • Planned visits to doctors and dentists for treatment
  • Ceasing prescription medication
  • Navigate functions at school to ensure accidental meetings are avoided
  • How old the child is and whether they should be able to watch 12- or 18-rated films

While these points don’t cover absolutely every decision, it is a good foundation to start with. Consultation is not always necessary, but when it is, it must be undertaken to ensure a balanced and fair relationship with and experience for the child. Everyone has their own unique style of parenting, but this needs to remain moderated and the child’s welfare prioritised at all times.

The Child Comes First

There are been numerous cases of divorce where Judges like Lord Fraser have emphasised that Parental Responsibility is entirely for the good of the child, and not of the parents. Fraser has said:

‘Parental rights to control a child do not exist for the benefit of the parents. They exist for the benefit of the child’.

The child’s best interests should be the first thing that is taken into consideration before making any parenting decision around them.

Applying This to Real Life

Let’s see how Parental Responsibility applies to real life scenarios. For example, Parent X is wanting to travel with the child to see relatives or a friend. If all is deemed safe and positive for the child’s experience, Parent Y will not need to spend much time deliberating.

However, in this situation, one reason that Parent Y may choose to use is that they personally don’t care for the person being visited. In this situation, their opinions shouldn’t hold sway, and they should put aside their own emotions in favour of trusting Parent X.

Another example of a real life situation is when a child has different rules and bedtimes with each parent. It’s important that both parents consider the effects this will have on the child. It can be tempting for parents to want to spend as much time as possible with their kids, and be ‘the fun parent’ by allowing things the other parent does not. However, it’s a good idea for children to have a routine as this keeps them happy and healthy, as well as ensuring they’re getting adequate sleep for coping in school and home life.

Dealing with Parental Responsibility

In the A v A case mentioned earlier, the Judge made some interesting points about how to exert Parental Responsibility. The key points worth noting are:

  • After separation, both parents have the exact same rights to be informed on decisions regarding their child(ren)
  • When children are with one parent who needs to make everyday decisions around them, then certain choices need consultation with the other parent, while others do not.
  • When the children are with Parent X, Parent & should avoid unnecessarily interfering with their decisions whenever possible
  • The child’s needs and welfare must be of paramount importance in all decisions – parents should use their intuition and common sense to ensure the best choice is made for the child.

If you need any more advice on the grey areas of Parental Responsibility for divorced parents, don’t hesitate to get in touch with The Divorce Manager. We offer expert guidance on how to manage parental duties after separation – simply call us on 0800 294 0452 or book a free informal consultation today.

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