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Parental Responsibility Disputes

When Parents Cannot Agree

Children´s activities sometimes become a battle ground for parents whose bitterness or anger persists after the separation.

Some of these disputes are trivially spiteful and involve one parent stopping the other from attending football matches, or the nativity play, and forget to consider whether the child might enjoy both parents seeing them involved in THEIR activity.

Please remember it´s the child´s activity, not the parents!

Other disputes may be more serious, and involve matters like choice of medicine, selection of schools, religious practices and relocating the children.

When matters are serious and cannot be agreed, the parents can apply to the court for a specific issue order or a prohibited steps order. A judge will hear both parents´ views, and then make the final decision in what they consider to be the best interests of the child.

Specific Issue Orders Prohibited Steps Orders

If matters relate to a contact dispute, you should refer to our guide on contact and enforcement since there are different forms and procedures for resolving contact disputes via court.

Child Arrangements Orders, Contact and Enforcement

Parents often ask... "If I go to court over this [a dispute over parental responsiblity] what is likely to happen?". The Children Act´s definition of parental responsibility is so vague on the matter of how decisions may be taken as to be useless when parents are in dispute. The Act defines parental responsibility 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 2004, Sir Nicholas Wall gave useful guidance in the High Court for warring ex´s as to how decisions concerning matters related to parental responsibility should be taken. That guidance is set out below. The case was A v A [2004] EWHC 142 (fam) which is sometimes also referred to as A Mother and A Father and Their Two Children BC. The full text of this judgment can be read via the button below:

A v A [2004] EWHC 142

A v A [2004] EWHC 142 (fam)

After paragraph 133.

  1. Decisions that could be taken independently and without any consultation or notification to the other parent.

  2. Decisions where one parenwt would always need to inform the other parent of the decision, but did not need to consult or take the other parent´s views into account.

  3. Decisions that you would need to both inform and consult the other parent prior to making the decision.

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Michael Robinson © 2014

Family law information for parents whose children are resident in England and Wales

Crown Copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's printer for Scotland.

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