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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 :
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.
If a child's parents were married to each other at the time of his birth, they will each have parental responsibility for him.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
If the parents are unmarried, they can enter into a parental responsibility agreement. This must be:
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.
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.
The courts in Northern Ireland have a broad range of powers at their disposal and, in particular, can resolve issues relating to-
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
An appeal lies:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
If the court in Northern Ireland decides it has jurisdiction to deal with the proceedings, it will apply the law in Northern Ireland.
Last update: 03-08-2007