Parental Responsibility When Separated From Your Partner
What can a separated parent do if they’re worried about their child coming to harm?
This article is designed to explain the options available to separated parents when they are concerned their children are at risk. Firstly, we will explore Parental Responsibility, and what this means for you. Secondly, we will look at the different ways you can raise your concerns with your separated partner. Thirdly, and finally, we will look at the different type of Court applications you can bring. If you are genuinely concerned that your child is at risk of harm by way of domestic violence or neglect, then you may decide that communication is not an option and involvement of the Local Authority is necessary.
What is Parental Responsibility?
Parental Responsibility (or PR) confirms the responsibilities you have for your children. Some responsibilities must be undertaken by all adults who have PR, but others can be done individually. These responsibilities include the following:-
- Jointly choosing your child’s school
- Jointly deciding where your child should live, and whether that should be in the UK or abroad
- Making emergency medical decisions (this can be done by anyone with PR for the child in question, and does not need the presence of all who hold PR)
- Jointly encouraging your child to take part in religious or cultural traditions within the family
- Jointly deciding your child’s surname
- In most circumstances, jointly agreeing for your child to take a holiday abroad
If you were married to the other parent at the birth of your child, then you have automatic PR. If you are not listed on the birth certificate, or were not present at the registration of your child’s birth, and you remain unmarried then you are unlikely to have PR. If that is the case, you will need to make an application to the Court, or speak to the parent who has PR and request that they sign a Parental Responsibility agreement.
By having PR, it ensures that you must be consulted if your child is being relocated, their school is changing or their other parent wants to change the child’s name. If therefore you have concerns about your child coming to harm, PR guarantees you have the tools to challenge the decisions of the other parent (or individual with PR) in Court.
“My child told me something worrying but I can’t speak to my ex”
Sometimes it is hard for a separated parent to speak to their ex, even if they share a child together. It can be this lack of communication which results in the concern to begin with, and there are instances where constructive communication between the parties can satisfy your concerns.
Therefore, the first step in any process into investigating your child’s welfare is to speak to the other parent. If you cannot do this directly, try doing it through a mutual friend or family member and put your concerns in writing so that the third party cannot paraphrase your comments. Avoid accusing the other parent, as it may be there are two sides to every story, and just try to put your concerns across. You may find that the other parent is happy to discuss your concerns, and matters can be addressed.
If this does not work, then you can try to suggest mediation. Mediation is a way to allow two people to express their views on common ground, with a Mediator helping the parties to voice their views in a constructive manner. I mediation breaks down then the next option before going to Court is to involve a solicitor. This can simply be an attempt to open communication, and there are some parents out there who unfortunately will not engage until a solicitor is involved.
“My ex doesn’t want to talk. What do I do now?”
If you have reached the stage where communication has broken down, and your ex is refusing to discuss your concerns about your child with them, then your next option is to involve the Local Authority and/or bring Court proceedings. Court proceedings can be expensive, but you may be eligible for Legal Aid if there is an immediate risk of domestic violence.
Applying for an Emergency Prohibited Steps Order
If you are genuinely concerned that your child is at an immediate risk of harm or abduction, then you should contact the police and you will need to issue an emergency application to the Court. You will need to apply for an emergency Prohibited Steps Order and a Specific Issue Order.
The Prohibited Steps Order will restrict the other parent from doing certain things (which will be individual to your case) and the Specific Issue Order will determine a specific question that has arisen.
In the case of child abuse or domestic violence, if both Orders are granted, the Prohibited Steps Order will prohibit the parent in question from continuing their behaviour and the specific issue order will determine whether their actions are appropriate or placing the child at risk. Within those emergency applications you can also ask for the child to be transferred to your care, if that is appropriate. If it is not safe for the child to live with either parent, then they may be placed with a suitable family member or in care.
If you are concerned that the child is being abducted to another location, either in the UK or abroad, then a Prohibited Steps Order will restrict the child from leaving the country and the Specific Issue Order will decide whether it is in the child’s best interests to relocate. Again, you can also request that the child is placed with you until the matter is finalised.
If you are concerned for your own safety, then you should consider applying for a Non-Molestation Order which restricts how your ex can contact you and gives the police an automatic right of arrest if the Order is breached.
General Concerns about Your Child's Welfare
If you believe that an emergency application is not necessary, but you still have concerns about your child’s care, or the time you spend with your child, then you can apply for either of the above Orders on a non-emergency basis, or alternatively you can apply for a Child Arrangements Order. This Order sets out where the child should live, and how much they see their other parent and family members.