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Divorce law blog

Rights, duties and responsibilities of parents

27/04/2015   By:

When your relationship breaks down, you may be asking what exactly are your responsibilities towards your children? The answer has been spelled out by the Family Court in a recent, damning judgement* involving parents who both had parental responsibility for their two children.



So, what is 'parental responsibility'? The definition given by the Children Act 1989 is:



"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".



You can find out more about parental responsibility in our section on putting children first.



The case focussed on a father’s application for contact with his two daughters. By the time of the judgement the case had been ongoing in the courts for almost seven years and the children, who were by now in their teens, were completely hostile to any contact with their father. As a result, there was no direct contact between the father and the children.



Both parents came in for real criticism for their behaviour and attitude towards each other and towards the children following the breakdown of their relationship and were found to be entirely responsible for the father’s estrangement from the children. They were described as behaving “in ways that are destructive to the prospects of contact” and for their absolute failure to exercise their parental responsibility.



The Court stressed that both parents have an obligation to do what they can to promote contact and to meet their child's contact needs even if things are difficult. It is not acceptable to say “no” to reasonable strategies that are designed to improve the situation. Furthermore, even if the child is saying that he or she won’t do something or is adamantly opposed to it, parents cannot hide behind that, whatever age the child is.



So, the clear message is that a parent who has parental responsibility has a duty to make difficult decisions even if it means persuading children to do something they don’t want to do and they must do whatever they can to encourage or to restore a child's relationship with the other parent.



Making contact happen and, even more importantly, making contact work is one of the most difficult and contentious challenges parents can face. If you feel like you need some support, details of organisations who can help can be found on our support for children page.



* Re H-B (Contact) [2015] EWCA Civ 389



Kim Aucott


Family Law Associate

Manchester


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