By Conal McGarrity
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What is Parental Responsibility? Decoding the Legal Jargon

A question that our solicitor’s are often asked is what is parental responsibility and how does this operate in the context of family law. Our aim is to decode the legal jargon surrounding this area of law and make it easier to understand in practical terms for our client’s.

Parental responsibility is defined in the Children Act 1989 as; ‘all the duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.’ This means that the parent or carer is responsible for ensuring that the child is cared for and protected up until the age of 18. Parental responsibility comes with a duty of care. You must provide for the child and make decisions about the child’s care and upbringing. Examples of parental responsibility include;

  • A duty to protect the child from neglect, discrimination and any form of abuse

  • Consenting and providing the child with adequate medical treatment and medical care.

  • Provide education and guidance

  • Choosing and registering the child’s name

  • Consenting to taking the child abroad

  • If the child will follow a religion

Disputes often arise in relation to parental responsibility and the rights of each party, particularly in the event of a separation. Parental responsibility automatically lies with the birth mother when a child is born. If the mother and father are married when the child is born the father also has the responsibility.

A father who is not married to the mother but is registered on the child’s birth certificate will automatically have parental responsibility. In a scenario where the father of a child is not married to the mother and isn’t named on the birth certificate; he will have no parental responsibility for the child. If you have no parental responsibility for your child, you can try having your name registered or re-registered on the birth certificate, enter into a voluntary agreement with the mother of the child or make an application to the Court to try obtain a Parental Responsibility Order.

Our expert family law team can advise on the most appropriate step to take. Issues of parental responsibility often become contentious when the parent’s of a child decide to separate. It is always desirable that parent’s come to an agreement on parental responsibility upon separation. However, in reality differences often arise in relation to parental responsibility. In those circumstances solicitor’s for each party can mediate and try to reach an amicable agreement between parents. If the parents cannot reach an agreement, then the courts need to become involved for the best interest of all parties involved.

An Order may be put in place by the Court setting out the parental responsibility of each parent. Applications to change, oppose or vary this Order can also be made and our solicitor’s will be in a position to advise you on this. The Courts in Northern Ireland will always put the best interests of the child at the centre of any proceedings in relation to parental responsibility. It is therefore important to think about what is best for your child when trying to make an agreement in a dispute.

At PA Duffy & Company we can help assist you with a variety of matters. Family law is one of the many areas we specialise in. Our specialised solicitors are only too happy to help guide families with the help they need. We will guide you through the process and keep you updated throughout.

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