Parental responsibilities

Parental responsibilities

In divorce or dissolution cases, the most important concern for the court is the welfare of the children of the family.

The court will need to be satisfied that the arrangements for the children are either suitable or are the best that can be achieved under the circumstances.

What does 'parental responsibility' mean?

'Parental responsibility' means all the rights, powers and duties a parent needs to make decisions in relation to a child. The idea behind the word 'responsibility' is to show that the parental power to control a child is not for the benefit of the parent but for the child.

The important decisions and duties in the child's life include:

  • Providing a safe home for your child
  • Protecting and maintaining your child
  • How your child is disciplined
  • Choosing the school your child will be educated in
  • Determining the religious upbringing of your child
  • Consenting to medical treatment of your child
  • Providing or allowing any confidential information about your child that is requested to be disclosed

Parental responsibilities also include day-to-day decisions for a child such as:

  • Nutrition
  • Recreation
  • Outings

Who has parental responsibilities?

This area of the law is governed by The Children (NI) Order 1995.

A mother is automatically considered to have parental responsibilities on the birth of her child. This is not always the case for fathers.

If the child's mother and father are married at the time of the child's birth, then the father will have parental responsibilities. However, if the parents are unmarried at the time of the birth of the child, the father will only have parental responsibilities if any the following is true:

  • The father has obtained a parental responsibilities order from the court.
  • The father jointly registered the birth of the child with the mother on or after 15 April 2002.
  • The father has entered into a parental responsibilities agreement with the mother. The format for this type of agreement can be found on the Northern Ireland Court Service website (opens a PDF).
  • The father marries the child's mother after the birth of the child (automatically giving him parental responsibilities and rights).

What happens when parents can't agree?

Parental rights and responsibilities are shared while the parents are living together; they cannot veto each other and disputes can be settled by the courts, normally by way of a specific issue or prohibited steps application. It is only in exceptional circumstances that a court will get involved in any dispute regarding a child that is 16 years or older.

During a divorce or dissolution, if cooperation exists, then court orders are not needed. If there is no cooperation, the parent who is to look after the child may need to apply for a residence order. This gives the person who benefits from the order the right to have the child living with them. The other parent retains all rights except this right of residence.

If the parents can't decide who the children will live with, each parent has the option to take the matter to court. Proceedings must be brought in the Family Proceedings Court for the area where the children reside.

You can find your local Court Office at the Northern Ireland Court Service website.

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