European Commission > EJN > Parental responsibility > Northern Ireland

Last update: 03-08-2007
Printable version Bookmark this page

Parental responsibility - Northern Ireland

EJN logo

This page is now obsolete. The update is currently being prepared and will be available in the European e-Justice Portal.


 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. What does the legal term “parental responsibility” mean in practical terms? What are the rights and obligations of a holder of parental responsibility? 1.
2. As a general rule, who has the parental responsibility over a child? 2.
3. If the parents are unable or unwilling to exercise parental responsibility over their children, can another person be appointed in their place? 3.
4. If the parents divorce or split up, how is the question of parental responsibility determined for the future? 4.
5. If the parents conclude an agreement on the question of parental responsibility, which formalities must be respected to make the agreement legally binding? 5.
6. If the parents cannot come to an agreement on the issue of parental responsibility, what are the alternative means for solving the conflict without going to court? 6.
7. If the parents go to court, what issues can the judge decide upon relating to the child? 7.
8. If the court decides that one parent shall have single custody of a child, does this mean that he or she can decide on all matters relating to the child without first consulting the other parent? 8.
9. If the court decides that the parents shall have joint custody of a child, what does this mean in practice? 9.
10. To which court or authority should I turn if I want to lodge an application on parental responsibility? Which formalities must be respected and which documents shall I attach to my application? 10.
11. Which procedure applies in these cases? Is an emergency procedure available? 11.
12. Can I obtain legal aid to cover the costs of the procedure? 12.
13. Is it possible to appeal against a decision on parental responsibility? 13.
14. In certain cases, it may be necessary to apply to a court to have a decision on parental responsibility enforced. Which court should I use in such cases and which procedure applies? 14.
15. What should I do to have a decision on parental responsibility that is issued by a court in another Member State recognised and enforced in Northern Ireland? 15.
16. To which court should I turn to oppose the recognition of a decision on parental responsibility issued by a court in another Member State? Which procedure applies in these cases? 16.
17. Which law does the court apply in a proceeding on parental responsibility where the child or the parties do not live in Northern Ireland or are of different nationality? 17.

 

1. What does the legal term “parental responsibility” mean in practical terms? What are the rights and obligations of a holder of parental responsibility?

The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 defines parental responsibility as all the rights, duties, powers and responsibilities which, by law, a parent has in relation to his child. The Order does not list what those rights and responsibilities are. However, it has been recognised that those with parental responsibility have :

  • a duty to protect, provide a home and care for the child;
  • the ability to determine where the child should live;
  • the ability to decide who may have contact with the child;
  • a duty to secure the child's education;
  • the right to consent to the granting of a passport;
  • a duty to secure medical treatment or assistance and the right to consent to such treatment or assistance;
  • the right to name the child;
  • the right to secure religious instruction for the child.

Parental responsibility should, at all times, be exercised in the best interests of the child and all those with parental responsibility should be consulted before an important decision is made. However, if agreement cannot be reached, the court may be asked to resolve the issue.

2. As a general rule, who has the parental responsibility over a child?

If a child's parents were married to each other at the time of his birth, they will each have parental responsibility for him.

back

TopTop

If a child's parents were not married to each other at the time of his birth, the mother will automatically have parental responsibility for him and the father may acquire parental responsibility for him by:

  • marrying the mother;
  • asking the court to make a parental responsibility order in his favour;
  • entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother (see question 5 below); or
  • being registered as the child's father (this only applies to births registered within the U.K. after 15th April 2002).

If an unmarried father has acquired parental responsibility by court order, agreement or registration, that responsibility can only be brought to an end by an order of the court.

If a court grants a residence order to an unmarried father, it must, if he would not otherwise have parental responsibility, also make a parental responsibility order in his favour.

A non-parent may acquire parental responsibility for a child by virtue of a court order.

3. If the parents are unable or unwilling to exercise parental responsibility over their children, can another person be appointed in their place?

A person who has parental responsibility for a child cannot surrender or transfer that responsibility. S/he can, however, arrange for someone else to discharge that responsibility on his/her behalf.

In addition, a non-parent can acquire parental responsibility for a child by obtaining a court order (for example, a residence order, emergency protection order or care order).

back

TopTop

As a general rule, a parent does not automatically lose parental responsibility for the child simply because someone else acquires it. However, an adoption order transfers parental responsibility from the natural parents to the adoptive parents.

If a parent has parental responsibility for a child, s/he may appoint another person to be the child's guardian in the event of his/her death.

4. If the parents divorce or split up, how is the question of parental responsibility determined for the future?

Parental responsibility for a child continues post-divorce and is limited only to the extent that a voluntary agreement or court order settles issues between the parents or the parents and third parties.

5. If the parents conclude an agreement on the question of parental responsibility, which formalities must be respected to make the agreement legally binding?

If the parents are unmarried, they can enter into a parental responsibility agreement. This must be:

  • in the form set out in the Children (Parental Responsibility Agreement) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996;
  • witnessed; and
  • filed, together with two copies, in the Office of Care and Protection in the Royal Courts of Justice, Chichester Street, Belfast, BT1 3JF.

If the parents were married, but have separated or divorced, they can agree how they will meet their parental responsibilities and have that agreement made an order of court, which may be varied at a later stage to take account of changed circumstances.

back

TopTop

6. If the parents cannot come to an agreement on the issue of parental responsibility, what are the alternative means for solving the conflict without going to court?

In Northern Ireland there are a number of agencies that provide mediation services (for example, Relate) and can assist in the amicable resolution of disputes.

7. If the parents go to court, what issues can the judge decide upon relating to the child?

The courts in Northern Ireland have a broad range of powers at their disposal and, in particular, can resolve issues relating to-

  • a child's removal from Northern Ireland;
  • residence (where, and with whom, a child should live);
  • contact (when, where and with whom a child may have contact);
  • financial provision;
  • education;
  • religious instruction;
  • medical treatment;
  • the administration of the child's estate.

8. If the court decides that one parent shall have single custody of a child, does this mean that he or she can decide on all matters relating to the child without first consulting the other parent?

The courts have recognised the need for flexible and practical arrangements wherever possible. So if a child is being looked after by one parent, that parent needs to be able to take the decisions that have to be taken while the child is in his/her care.

back

TopTop

At the same time, there is an expectation that major decisions will be discussed with the other parent and resolved amicably. However if agreement is not reached the court can grant a specific issues order (which resolves a particular question) or a prohibited steps order (which specifies the type of decision that cannot be taken without the consent of the court).

If a residence order is in force with respect to a child, no person may cause the child to be known by another surname or remove him/her from the United Kingdom for one month or more without the written consent of every person who has parental responsibility or the consent of the court.

9. If the court decides that the parents shall have joint custody of a child, what does this mean in practice?

When the child is with one parent, that parent will make required routine decisions. However, it is expected that the other parent will be consulted about major decisions.

10. To which court or authority should I turn if I want to lodge an application on parental responsibility? Which formalities must be respected and which documents shall I attach to my application?

Ordinarily, an application for an order that will confer parental responsibility should be commenced in a Family Proceedings Court. However, if there are other family proceedings relating to the child pending in another court, the application may be commenced in that court.

Proceedings commenced in a Family Proceedings Court may be transferred up to a Family Care Centre or the High Court on a number of grounds (for example, if they are complex or involve a question of general public interest).

back

TopTop

The addresses and telephone numbers of the courts are listed in the telephone directory (under “Northern Ireland Court Serviceâ€�) and on the Northern Ireland Court Service's website.

There are a number of forms that must be completed and lodged in the relevant court office. Most of these are in a standard form. The court office will be able to provide copies of the Forms and explain how to complete them. However, court staff cannot give legal advice or tell you what to say. A court fee will also be payable.

11. Which procedure applies in these cases? Is an emergency procedure available?

When the application is lodged, the court office will set a date for the hearing and the other party will be notified of that date. If the matter is not resolved before the date set for hearing, a magistrate or judge will hear the evidence and reach a decision.

In an emergency, the court may hear just one party and make an interim order. In such circumstances, the required forms do not have to be filed and served in advance. However, they must be filed and served within 48 hours of the application and the court will usually set a date for all of the parties to attend court.

12. Can I obtain legal aid to cover the costs of the procedure?

You are entitled to apply for legal aid. However, the level of financial assistance provided (if any) is subject to a financial means assessment. Even if you are assessed as being financially eligible, you may have to make a financial contribution towards the costs. By agreement this contribution may be repaid to the Legal Aid Department over a period of time. In addition to the financial eligibility criteria you must also satisfy a merits test i.e. is that there must be reasonable grounds for bringing, or defending, the proceedings and it must be reasonable in all the circumstances to do so.

back

TopTop

13. Is it possible to appeal against a decision on parental responsibility?

An appeal lies:

  1. from a Family Proceedings Court to a Family Care Centre; and
  2. from a Family Care Centre to the High Court

against the making or refusal to make an order.

On appeal, the High Court may, upon the application of a party, state a case on point of law for the opinion of the Court of Appeal . Otherwise, the High Court's decision is final.

The Court of Appeal's decision on the case stated by the High Court is final.

14. In certain cases, it may be necessary to apply to a court to have a decision on parental responsibility enforced. Which court should I use in such cases and which procedure applies?

If the decision was made by a court in Northern Ireland, the application to enforce the decision should be made to that court.

In a Family Proceedings Court (where most decisions on parental responsibility are made), a summons may be issued to bring the other party before the court to answer for his/her failure to comply with the decision.

15. What should I do to have a decision on parental responsibility that is issued by a court in another Member State recognised and enforced in Northern Ireland?

Council Regulation (EC) No 1347/2000 of 29 May 2000 (“the Regulationâ€�) provides for certain decisions on the exercise of parental responsibility given in one Member State to be enforced in another Member State.
The decision must have been declared enforceable in that other State. In Northern Ireland you must apply to have the decision registered in the High Court.

back

TopTop

If a decision relating to the care of a child does not come within the terms of the Regulation, it may be covered by Part II of the Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985, which gives effect to the European Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Decisions Concerning Custody of Children and on the Restoration of Custody of Children (1980). Part II allows for certain decisions to be registered in the High Court in Northern Ireland. If registered, the decision can be enforced as if it was a decision of that Court.

The Northern Ireland Court Service acts as the Central Authority for Northern Ireland under the Convention. An application for registration can be forwarded to the Northern Ireland Court Service and, if appropriate, it will arrange for the matter to be taken forward.

16. To which court should I turn to oppose the recognition of a decision on parental responsibility issued by a court in another Member State? Which procedure applies in these cases?

With regard to the Regulation, an application to register is made without notice being served on any other party. Any objection must, therefore, be raised on appeal to the Court of Appeal.

The notice of appeal must:

  • specify the grounds of appeal;
  • specify the order that the Court will be asked to make; and
  • be served on the party to the proceedings in the High Court.

With regard to Part II of the Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985, objections can be raised during the application to the High Court. The applicant must serve his/her originating summons and supporting statement on the other party and s/he then has 7 days in which to lodge affidavit evidence.

17. Which law does the court apply in a proceeding on parental responsibility where the child or the parties do not live in Northern Ireland or are of different nationality?

If the court in Northern Ireland decides it has jurisdiction to deal with the proceedings, it will apply the law in Northern Ireland.

Further information

« Parental responsibility - General information | United Kingdom - General information »

back

TopTop

Last update: 03-08-2007

 
  • Community law
  • International law

  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Estonia
  • Ireland
  • Greece
  • Spain
  • France
  • Italy
  • Cyprus
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Hungary
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Austria
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovenia
  • Slovakia
  • Finland
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom