We still talk about our rights concerning our children when a relationship breaks down but these no longer exist. Now we must focus on the children’s rights and our duties to our children as parents. We have responsibilities for our children but they have real and urgent rights.
Children’s Rights & Best Interests
The terminology has changed for children’s rights. For example, there is no longer “custody” or “residence”, no “access rights” or “contact”. We now have Child Arrangements.
These days the Courts will not interfere with your arrangements for your children unless you ask them to settle a disagreement. Any dispute will not be decided as a contest as to who is the better parent, but wholly on what is best for the child, even if that is unfair to one or other parent. Your children’s rights take priority.
It is vital for the future emotional well being of your children that neither parent uses them as a tool or bargaining chip in any battle against the other parent.
Children can cope with divorce. What they cannot handle is a conflict between their parents. Remember that they love both of you and cannot be expected to take sides.
All mothers, irrespective of marital status, have automatic Parental Responsibility for their children from birth, as do married fathers. At the moment, however, only non-married parents who are named on the birth certificate since 2003 have Parental Responsibility but a mother can grant it by signing an Agreement. If she refuses then the Courts can, and usually will, grant Parental Responsibility to the father.
Maintenance is dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), provided the parents resides here or are a member of the Armed Forces posted abroad. Otherwise, the Court can order maintenance to be paid in those circumstances where the CMS has no authority, for example; for stepchildren and to order the payment of school fees.
An application for a Child Arrangements order is made to the Family Court and an initial hearing is fixed when it is decided how best to resolve the problem. The Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service [CAFCASS] are involved by the Court and the officer will contact both parents before reporting back to the Court with a safeguarding letter. If necessary the Court will decide the outcome after a full hearing of all the evidence.
If both parents agree then issues relating to the children’s rights can be resolved quickly but if there are disputes involving children the process can be drawn out and complex. There may need to be a formal report to the Court by a CAFCASS Officer which takes 12-14 weeks. If allegations of abuse are made, there will often be a fact finding hearing. It is essential that you have specialist legal advice throughout this process to ensure that your children’s rights are put first.
If you’re looking for legal advice regarding your children’s rights, then get in touch with Diane Genders Solicitors.
Parental Responsibility for Step-Parents
Step-parents do not automatically have parental responsibility for their step-children. It is however possible to acquire parental responsibility for step-children in one of three ways. The first being by entering into a Step-parent Parental Responsibility Agreement. This is an agreement entered into with the other holders of parental responsibility, for example, the mother and the children’s father (if he has parental responsibility). It is not necessary to issue any Court application and we are able to complete the forms on your behalf for you to sign and have witnessed. These are then forwarded to the Central Family Court where the Court will record the agreement and retain the original form. A Step-parent Parental Responsibility Agreement can only end by Order of the Court made on the application of any person who has parental responsibility for the child(ren); by Order of the Court made on application of the child with permission of the Court; or when the child reaches the age of 18.
Parental responsibility can also be acquired by a Child Arrangements Order called a Live with Order. If the Live with Order is subsequently cancelled by the Court the person who acquired parental responsibility by way of this Order loses parental responsibility.
Application for Child Arrangements Order by a Grandparent
The general presumption is that a parent should have contact with their child unless there are reasons to the contrary. There is no such presumption for grandparents.
In the first instance if a grandparent is unable to reach an agreement with the parent(s) in relation to spending time with their grandchild(ren) then it is necessary for a referral to be made to mediation for a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting). If mediation breaks down then the grandparent can make an application to the Court for permission to apply for a Child Arrangements Order. If permission is granted the child arrangements application can be made and the Court will then consider the merits of the application with the welfare of the child(ren) being of paramount importance.