My child doesn’t live with me, what rights do I have regarding their upbringing, including their health and education?
Firstly, you are not alone; every year, 12,000 couples with children decide to live apart. To answer this question, it’s important to understand a little about the legal concept of parental responsibility and the duties and rights that this gives parents.
Who has responsibility?
Parental responsibility is defined in the Children’s Act 1989 as “all rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has“. In practice, it means that someone with parental responsibility has a right to take part in the major decisions in the child’s life, including selecting a school and having access to information regarding a child’s health.
The child’s mother always has parental responsibility. The child’s father has responsibility if:
- He is married to the mother at the time of the birth (and under English law if he marries the mother later on)
- If he’s on the birth certificate (for births registered in England and Wales after December 1 2003)
- If he and the mother have signed a parental responsibility agreement
- Or if the court has made a parental responsibility order in the father’s favour
- If he has a child arrangements order in his favour
There are various important decisions in a child’s life that should have the agreement of everyone who has parental responsibility. These include:
- Where a child lives
- Whether or not a child receives medical treatment
- How and where a child is educated
- Which religion, if any, a child follows
- Deciding a child’s name and registering their birth
- Giving consent for a child to leave the country on holiday or permanently
Parental responsibility does not in itself entitle a parent to live with or see their child.
In a situation where a parent doesn’t have parental responsibility they still have rights that stem from their status as a parent. These include the right to apply for a residence or contact order or a specific issue order (regarding medical treatment or religious education, for instance). A parent who does not live with a child has a legal obligation to make financial contributions under child support legislation.
Where there is a dispute as to how parental responsibility should be exercised, the Court’s focus will always be to look at what outcomes best meet the needs of the child, not on the competing right of the parents.