Do mothers have more rights than fathers?
In short, mothers and fathers have more or less the same rights as each other in principle. When people refer to “rights” in relation to children, they are referring to parental responsibility. Parental responsibility is a legal term that encompasses all the obligations, duties, responsibilities, and powers that a parent has in relation to a child and a child’s property. Both mothers and fathers, who have parental responsibility, have a shared responsibility to their children, and with that come shared rights, duties, obligations. Family disputes relating to “parental rights” often arise due to two distinct issues:
- One parent does not have parental responsibility; or
- Both parents have parental responsibility, but cannot agree on an important decision relating to their child.
How do I know if I have parental responsibility?
This depends on who you are in relation to the child:
- If you are the biological mother of the child, you will automatically have parental responsibility of your child.
- If you are the biological father of the child, you will have parental responsibility in two circumstances:
- You are married to the biological mother when your child is born.
- You are not married to the child mother, but are named on your child’s birth certificate.
- Unmarried fathers who are not named on the birth certificate can get parental responsibility in one of two ways:
- Through a Parental Responsibility Agreement where the biological mother consents to this.
- Through a Parental Responsibility Order, which is an order made by the Courts through applying for a Child Arrangements Order.
- If you are not the biological parent of a child but are seeking parental responsibility, then you will need to seek a Parental Responsibility Agreement that is signed by the biological parents.
What rights do I have if I have parental responsibility?
The core duty of parents who have parental responsibility is to care and protect for their child. You will have responsibilities to ensure that your child is raised and disciplined, that they are educated and are looked after medically and are in good health. In terms of rights, as parents with parental responsibility you will have a legal right in making important decisions relating to your child. These include:
- Giving your child a name, or changing their name.
- Consenting to medical interventions and treatment.
- Deciding where your child is educated, or changing where your child is educated.
- Decisions relating to passports and travel.
- Decisions relating to your child’s religion
It is important that whoever has parental responsibility makes these decisions jointly. Of course, decisions around day-to-day upbringing do not require this, but those significant decisions should be mutually discussed and agreed.
What happens if we cannot agree on a significant decision relating to our child?
Where parents do not agree on an important decision, they may turn to mediation. If parents are unable to agree at mediation, they may turn to the Courts. When the Courts make decisions, such as relating to the above, they will always look at the child’s best interests and their welfare as the paramount consideration. It is a common misconception that there is a legal presumption or rule that children should reside with their mothers, but if the Court considers this to be in the child’s best interests, then this may be the decision they make.
The process around making an important decision could look something like this:
- Trying to come to a decision individually through conversation about the issue.
- Coming to family mediation to try and settle the dispute through a facilitated discussion with the support of a family mediator.
- An application to the court for at least one of the following orders:
- A Child Arrangements Order – an order about with who a child is to live or how long a child is to spend time with a parent.
- A Specific Issue Order – an order about a certain decision which the Courts will make. An example of this could be a change in education, or a medical decision.
- A Prohibited Steps Order – an order that stops a parent from doing something which the other parent disagrees with.
All of these orders are applied by using the C100 form.
An important thing to remember is that parents should always consider resolving a dispute in Court as a last resort. Don’t forget that the Courts will be interested to know that parents who are making an application have exhausted all options before coming to them. The main alternative option here is family mediation. The Courts can be quite strict when it comes to parents who have not exhausted other options.
It is preferable for all family members, particularly children, that disputes are resolved as amicably as possible. It is important that your child is able to see their parents working together as coparents. High conflict disputes can be difficult to deal with and witness. The Court process can be very stressful, timely, and costly. It can put great strain on families.
If you would like to attempt family mediation in relation to a dispute or request for your C100 certificate so that you can apply to the Family Court, please contact our friendly team on 0113 468 9593 or fill out the contact form, here.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is parental responsibility?
Parental responsibility refers to the obligations, duties and rights that you have as a parent to your child.
Who has parental responsibility?
If you are the biological mother of your child, then you will automatically have parental responsibility. If you are the biological father, then you will have parental responsibility if you were married to the biological mother when your child was born OR if you are named on the child’s birth certificate.
What can I do if I don’t have parental responsibility?
If you do not have parental responsibility then you will need to either seek a parental responsibility agreement (an agreement signed by the biological mother to consent to you having parental responsibility) or a parental responsibility order (an order made by the Court to say that you have parental responsibility).
Do I need to attend mediation?
It is a legal requirement to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making an application to the Court. There are exemptions to this, but usually you will need to have at least attended a MIAM. It is suggested that wherever possible, disputes are resolved at mediation to ensure things are sorted out as amicably as possible.
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