The Importance of Agreement between Parents

  • We are separating. Is it necessary for the court to be involved in any way?
  • My husband was completely at fault for causing the divorce due to his affair. I do not think that it is right that he should see the children. They hate him as well for what he has done.
  • The divorce is so acrimonious we cannot ever work together on contact arrangements. For a start, I cannot bear to see her each week when I collect the children.
  • People keep saying the children should come first. How do we gauge what is best for them?

Parents who separate have to address a range of issues concerning their children and wherever possible, it is much better for the children if the parents are able to agree arrangements without the involvement of third parties, such as solicitors or the court. Of course, reaching an agreement can be very difficult in the emotionally charged atmosphere of divorce, dissolution and separation.

Sometimes, a parent may try to ‘punish’ the other parent by placing restrictions on contact or by critising the other parent to the children during contact visits. It is vital that the adults recognise that whilst they may have the opportunity to use the children to hurt the other parent, this will always unnecessarily hurt the children as well. No matter how impossible the relationship between the parents may have become, the mother and father will share their roles as parents for the rest of their lives, and if they are to respect and address the needs of the children they will need to work together.

Research shows that children whose parents reach agreement through mediation are likely to find separation less distressing than when a dispute ends up in court. Parents who use this method of dispute resolution also report a greater degree of satisfaction. Further details about mediation are provided elsewhere upon this website.

The decision to go to court to resolve a difference concerning a child or children should not be taken without serious consideration. Many parents report negative experiences of the court process. This can make co-operation with your former partner much harder in the long term. Court action in this area should be used as a last resort, although at all times, the welfare of the children must remain the paramount consideration and there may be no alternative to court proceedings where you and your ex-partner are simply unable to reach agreement over important issues such as parental responsibility, residence and contact.

At Blackdown Family Law Solicitors, we understand that decisions about something as important as you children can be difficult to make, especially in the midst of what may be an acrimonious divorce/separation. John is highly skilled in the law relating to children, having gained extensive experience in this area over the past 22 years. He will explain the options available to you as a parent and will advise you on the best way forward in order to resolve and keep any conflict to a minimum.

Making Arrangements and Avoiding a Court Order

  • What does the phrase 'in the child's best interest' actually mean?
  • Isn't it best to get the arrangements about the children 'set in stone' by means of a court order, even if everything is agreed? Then there is no going back is there?
  • What is mediation? Shouldn't we just use solicitors as they know our case, having dealt with it from the start? My solicitor is really recommending a mediator what is involved?
On separation, parents are free to make whatever arrangements they may wish for their children in relation to where and with whom they will live and how much time they will spend with the other parent. It is certainly in the children's best interest if parents can agree these arrangements between themselves.

The Children Act 1989 contains a principle that the judge will not make an order in relation to children unless the court considers that it is in their best interests to do so. Some parents find it useful to use an experienced mediator to assist them in overcoming their own issues and focussing on reaching an agreement about their children.

It is only where an agreement cannot be reached, or there are serious welfare concerns which make mediation inappropriate, that a parent should have no alternative than to make an application to the court for an order.

In the vast majority of separations, there is no need to involve a court in determining any aspect of the children's lives. The involvement of solicitors and/or a mediator can usually assist in making an application to court a remedy of last resort.

John has worked closely with other solicitors and mediation agencies over his career to successfully resolve many disputes concerning children.

The Continuing Parental Role

  • My solicitor says I cannot change the person that I was married to. He says that despite our differences, we have to work together for the benefit of our children for as long as the children need us.
  • I hate my ex spouse but I admit he is good with the children and they enjoy their time with him.
Although your relationship with your partner, spouse or Civil Partner may have come to an end, your role as a parent does not. Children benefit from hearing consistent messages from both parents. They must be careful not to involve their children in adult issues and should explain matters to them in a straightforward manner appropriate to their age.

Parental Responsibility

  • What are my parental rights?
  • What does parental responsibility involve?
  • If I have parental responsibility does that mean that I decide all important matters?
  • What if both of us have parental responsibility. How do we resolve the stalemates?
When a decision has to be made about a child's upbringing, all those with Parental Responsibility should be consulted for their views as Parental Responsibility confers the ability to make and to be involved in decisions concerning a child or his/her property. It means assuming all the duties, rights, responsibilities and authority that a parent has by law in relation to a child and his/her property.

Parental rights do not really exist on their own because all rights also involve responsibilities. Having parental responsibility does not enable one parent to simply override the other parent's wishes; nor does it undermine the other parent's right to make day-to-day decisions relating to the children when they are with the other parent. Neither does it guarantee that you will achieve what you want if you make an application to court.

Day-to-day decisions should generally be made by the child's primary carer but they should consult the other parent with parental responsibility about major decisions concerning the child. Parental responsibility covers but is not limited to matters such as:-

  • Giving consent to medical treatment.
  • Education to include which school a child will attend. A person with parental responsibility can have their say over the location, whether a fee paying school is used or which state school is preferred.
  • Religious upbringing.
  • Naming the child and agreeing to any change of name.
  • Care and control of the child to include where and with whom a child will live and how much time they will spend with the other parent and other family members. This also encompasses day-to-day matters and routine.
  • When and in what manner a child might be guided, chastised or disciplined.
  • Accompanying a child outside of the U.K. and agreeing the child’s emigration should the issue arise.
  • Allowing confidential information about a child to be disclosed.
  • Parental consent to marriage, if the child seeks to marry between the age of 16 and 18 years of age.
  • Agreement to adoption.
  • Appointment of a Guardian. A person with parental responsibility can appoint a Guardian to take over the care and control of the child in the event of the death of all of those with parental responsibility.
  • The protection and maintenance of the child and his/her property.

Acquiring Parental Responsibility

  • We remain married but separated and my husband has never been much of a father to our son. At what point does he loose parental responsibility? I do not think that he has ever had much of a connection.
  • I have a 3 year old daughter, but I was never married to her mother and we have just separated. How can I get over my absence of parental responsibility as I was not named on the birth certificate?
  • He is talking of going to court if we cannot agree on parental responsibility. What does he have to prove?
  • Do I have any rights to see my step-children?

Mothers always have parental responsibility. Fathers, who are married to the mother, have parental responsibility. Unmarried fathers do not automatically acquire it but they can acquire it in the following circumstances:-

  • By being named as the father on the birth certificate for a child born and registered after 1 December 2003.
  • By entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother.
  • By adopting the child.
  • By marriage to the mother (either before or subsequent to the birth).
  • By order of the court.
A Parental Responsibility Agreement is a prescribed form and must be correctly completed, signed and registered for it to be effective. In the absence of any such agreement, one parent can make an application to the court. In considering an application from a father, the Judge will take into account:

  • The degree of commitment shown by the father to his child.
  • The degree of attachment between the father and the child.
  • The father’s reasons for applying for the order.

All decisions will be based upon what a Judge considers to be in the best interests of the child.

Since 30 December 2005, as a result of the Civil Partnerships Act 2004, it has been possible for step-parents and civil partners to obtain parental responsibility. This can only be acquired by agreement between the parents (but only those with parental responsibility) or by an order of the court. Parental responsibility will last until the child is 18 years of age and will not end if that marriage or Civil Partnership comes to an end.


John Turner, the Principal of Blackdown Family Law Solicitors, is a highly skilled solicitor who has dealt with all aspects of children advice and applications to court over the last 22 years. He will advise you on the most effective and efficient way of proceeding, whilst taking all of the circumstances of your case into account, most notably what is in the best interests of the children. He will be there to help shoulder the burden for you so that you can begin the process of rebuilding the relationship that your children have with both parents.

Areas of Family Law Work
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