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What Decisions Can I Make About My Child’s Care Without The Other Parent’s Consent?

When parents separate, the resulting co-parent relationship can be a difficult one to navigate. Not only do you face the prospect of spending less time with your children, but you may also decide to take very different approaches when making decisions for your children which can sometimes create conflict and put strain on the co-parenting relationship.

Co-parenting relationships can be very effective, but it is important that you understand your rights and responsibilities as a parent and what decisions can be made independently from each other to avoid potential disagreements.

Firstly, in order to make decisions for a child, you need to have Parental Responsibility.

What is Parental Responsibility?

Parental Responsibility is defined in Family Law as “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.’

In practical terms, this means that each person with parental responsibility over a child, including separated parents, have equal rights and responsibilities to be informed and make decisions about their children.

As a result, they should agree on all the important decisions in their child’s life, such as:

  • where they should live;
  • where they should go to school;
  • what name they should have;
  • what the child’s religion should be (if any);
  • whether they receive medical treatment, and
  • handling their money or property.

Who has Parental Responsibility?

More than one person can have parental responsibility for a child at the same time.

A child’s mother will automatically have parental responsibility for her child from their birth.

A child’s father will automatically have parental responsibility from birth if he was married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth. If the parents were not married, the father will have parental responsibility if he is named on the child’s birth certificate or has obtained a Parental Responsibility Order from court.

It is also possible for other connected people to apply to court for a Parental Responsibility Order, for example a step-parent.

What about day-to-day or urgent decisions for my child?

There are many day-to-day decisions where it would be both unnecessary and impractical to consult the other parent or wait for their agreement.

In the case of A v A [2004], the court provided some clear guidance on parental responsibility for separated parents, which would be useful to consider here.

“It is a basic principle that post-separation, each parent with parental responsibility retains an equal and independent right and responsibility to be informed and make appropriate decisions about their children. However, where children are being looked after by one parent, that parent needs to be able to make the day-to-day decisions that must be taken while that parent is caring for the children. Parents should not be seeking to interfere with one another in matters, which are taking place while they do not have the care of their children.”

As separated parents with parental responsibility, the law provides that you may act alone and without the need to consult the other parent in day-to-day affairs or in an emergency affecting your child. This is known as the right of independent action.

However, the right of independent action does not mean you should act alone in relation to important decisions in your child’s life, such as those listed above. In those instances, there remains a duty for you and the other parent to consult and agree on a way forward for your child.

It is always best to try and agree decisions about a child’s care with the other parent. Ultimately, your decisions should always place the child’s needs above your own and respect the other parent in their ability to exercise their rights and responsibilities.

Some examples of such decisions include:

Can I let my 9 year old child watch a 12A movie?

When making decisions about films, books or TV shows that are appropriate for your child’s age, it is important to consider whether being exposed to such content will affect the child’s wellbeing by making them overly upset or scared. In this particular example, if you will be accompanying your child throughout the film, you should not need to consult the other parent.

Can I introduce my new partner to my child?

It is important to consider first if your new relationship is appropriate and safe for your child to be introduced to. If you have a stable relationship with your new partner and believe that introducing your child to that relationship would not harm their welfare, then you should not need to consult the other parent. Bear in mind though that introducing a child to a new partner can be difficult for the child and the other parent and give consideration as to whether, if this may be the case, the other parent should be informed beforehand.

Can my children go to bed later under my care?

If your children have different bedtimes when they are in each parent’s care, you should look at how this may impact your child and their routine. If there is a significant difference, this might affect the child’s mood and ability to concentrate. In this instance, you and the other parent should discuss and agree on an appropriate bedtime which focuses on your child’s wellbeing.

What happens if we don’t agree on a decision for our child?

When making decisions about the care of your child, the first step is for you to discuss all the options with the other parent and see if you can reach a mutually accepted decision which places the needs of the child at the forefront.

If you do not agree, it is important to seek legal advice to resolve the issue in alternative ways, such as:

  • Solicitors correspondence, issues can often be resolved more effectively if an experienced family solicitor corresponds directly with the other parent or their legal representative;
  • Family Mediation, which is a process whereby an independent qualified mediator works with parents to help them come to a mutual agreement;
  • Other forms of dispute resolution, such as arbitration, where a neutral arbitrator makes a legally binding decision.

If the issue still cannot be resolved, the last resort will be for one parent to make an application to the court for a solution.

If you require any advice or assistance about the exercise of parental responsibility following the separation with your partner, please get in touch with one of our family law experts who will be able to discuss the best way forward for you and your children. Alternatively, you can call us on 0808 271 9413 or get in touch with us online.