If I asked you what parental responsibility means to you, you might answer:-
Providing a home for your child
Protecting your child
Having a say about all aspects of your child’s life
Having sleepless nights worrying about your child
Working out what your child needs and ensuring that you can meet those needs
Being there for your child in any and every situation
Raising your child to know right from wrong
In a mediation process the parents will have their own views on how they care for their child and it is with the parents that the expertise lies.
The legal definition of parental responsibility (PR) is “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.
Examples of decisions in a child’s life that have been said to need the agreement of everyone with PR are:-
Where a child lives or what arrangements for seeing the other parent or family members are made
Whether or not a child has medical treatment
Deciding what to call a child and registering the birth
Giving consent for a child to leave the country, whether for a holiday or permanently
Whether a child follows a religion
Which school a child attends.
Day to day decisions do not have to be agreed by everyone with PR but parents in a mediation process discuss not only the major issues but also how they will deal with day to day issues such as their child’s behaviour and discipline, bedtimes, homework, social media, introduction of a new partner, and effective sharing of information about their child. Frequently they resolve such issues as where their child spends time, how the handovers are arranged, how the financial upkeep of their child is shared, and the child’s health and education issues. The mediation process does not involve relationship counselling at all. Parents find ways of forming a “parental alliance” which looks great to their child. They can often do that even when they recognise that they won’t always agree about everything but they can agree on how to deal with their differences without their child witnessing conflict.
How do you get PR?
The following people automatically have PR:-
All birth mothers
Fathers married to the mother at the time a child was born
Fathers who are not married to the mother but are registered on a child’s birth certificate. The registration or re-registration must have taken place on or after 1st December 2003.
Same-sex partners will both have parental responsibility if they were civil partners at the time of the treatment, eg donor insemination or fertility treatment.
A biological father who does not already have PR can get it by:-
re-registering the birth of the child with the mother. They can attend a Register Office together
completing a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
applying for a parental responsibility order from a court. That would be necessary if a mother is not agreeing to the father having PR.
marrying the mother. An application can then be made to re-register the child’s birth.
For same-sex partners who aren’t civil partners, the second parent can get parental responsibility by either:
applying for a parental responsibility order
becoming a civil partner of the other parent and making a parental responsibility agreement or jointly registering the birth.
A parental responsibility agreement is a formal written document. The form is called C(PRA1) between a mother and a biological father seeking PR, C(PRA2) between parents and a step parent seeking PR, and C(PRA3) between a mother and a second female parent seeking PR and these can be downloaded online. The form will need to be signed and witnessed by the court and the form has detailed instructions on how to complete and finalise and then register the form.
In any case where a court application is considered the person who is going to apply to court should see an accredited mediator to find out about mediation. The mediator will assess whether the case is suitable for mediation and determine whether the applicant is entitled to legal aid for mediation. The mediation process is voluntary and no one is forced to mediate with the other party if they are not willing. Attendance at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) will entitle the applicant to a certificate of attendance valid for four months which will be required by the court in most applications.
If a court is determining whether or not to grant PR:-
the best interests of the child will be considered. The child’s welfare is always paramount.
a father will usually be granted PR unless there’s a good reason to refuse it.
Other carers of a child such as grandparents or other family members can get PR by:-
A court making a Child Arrangements Order which names them as the person the child lives with. The PR will last as long as the court order does.
A court making a Special Guardianship Order in their favour.
In both cases the birth parents keep PR but a Special Guardian can override the decision of a parent when there is disagreement. The mediation process can help family members resolve disputes in a way that reduces conflict. This has direct benefits for a child who is the subject of the dispute.
An Adoption Order gives PR to the adoptive parents but in that case the birth parents lose their PR.
Finally, PR can also be granted by appointment of a Guardian in a will. However this appointment is of no effect if there is anyone alive at the time of the Testator’s death who holds PR. If there is no one holding PR, the testamentary guardian gets PR but that could be challenged by a subsequent court application e.g. by a biological father or family member.
These days the Family Justice System is striving to provide a framework for constructive solutions that work for everyone, particularly any children, where a family is going through divorce separation or other family issues. At the heart of this must surely be the ability of parents to have constructive solutions that work for the children as well as themselves. Without cooperation between parents, the disputes are resolved by someone other than the parents or there is no resolution.
Do parents have a duty to cooperate with each other? If the answer is yes but for whatever reason it proves difficult or impossible, our experience is that after two one-hour sessions of mediation, most parents can achieve a lasting parenting plan that works well for their child.
For more information about mediation please visit our Family Mediation page or call us on 01670 528441.