Parental Responsibility  (Luxe Magazine)

Read what our children’s specialist solicitor, Sam Carter, says in this month’s edition of Luxe Magazine:

As we move towards the close of this glorious summer we turn our thoughts towards darker nights, cosy nights in watching “Strictly” and for those of us who enjoy football, the much awaited new season starts! However, by far the biggest change for families at this time of year will be the start of the new academic year.

Thousands of children across the UK shall be starting new schools this September. Be it the start of nursery, primary, secondary, 6th form, first or high school, this time of year marks a time of change and opportunity. The choice of school for our children is a significant one. As American founding father, Benjamin Franklin, once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”.

But who decides where a child goes to school? Their parents of course! However, the answer isn’t always entirely straightforward. All those with Parental Responsibility for a child must consent to the choice of school. Mothers automatically have Parental Responsibility for a child but it isn’t automatic for the biological father.

There are a variety of ways a father can obtain Parental Responsibility; the most common in being married to the mother or being named as the father on the birth certificate (but only if the child was born on or after 01 December 2003). A step parent can obtain Parental Responsibility but only if all those with Parental Responsibility consent and sign an agreement, or if the Court grants a Parental Responsibility Order in the step parent’s favour. A wider family member, such as a grandparent, could also have Parental Responsibility if the Court has granted an order that the child lives with them. There are also further provisions regulating surrogacy arrangements, whereby the Court can now grant a Parental Order to a non-biological parent.

For the majority of families, however, there will only be two people with Parental Responsibility – the biological mother and father. They need to agree the school their child goes to. However, what happens if there is no agreement?

The numbers of separated parents has held steady over the past decade. The single parents charity, Gingerbread, estimate there are around 2 million single parents who make up nearly a quarter of families with dependent children (as at June 2018). Separated parents may differ in their views as to which school to send their child, or the resident parent may want to move to a different area and change their child’s school.

If those with Parental Responsibility cannot agree which school to enrol the child then an application will need to be brought to the Family Court. This can either be done by the resident parent applying for a Specific Issue Order for permission to change schools, or the non-resident parent applying for a Prohibited Steps Order prohibiting the resident parent from taking any further steps to change the child’s school pending the Court making a final decision. The Judge will base their decision solely on what is in the best interests of the child.
Another common area of dispute between separated parents is a change of surname for the child. The same legal principles apply – all those with Parental Responsibility must agree to the change and in the absence of agreement an application must be brought to the Family Court.

So if you’re considering changing your child’s school or name as this academic year approaches, I do recommend you seek legal advice at an early stage. I’m a children law specialist at Major Family Law and would be happy to provide you with some initial advice in a no obligation free consultation. Feel free to get in touch with me directly on 01661 824582 or email me at samcarter@majorfamilylaw.co.uk.