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Single Parents’ Day takes place each year on 21 March.  Simply put, it is a day set aside to applaud the hard work that goes into raising children as a parent alone. It is, however, important for single parents to be aware of the basic legalities that arise after relationship breakdown, in terms of caring for children.

Parental responsibility and single parents

A child’s mother will always hold parental responsibility for a child and a father will also share this parental responsibility if he is named on the child’s birth certificate or was married to the mother before the child’s birth. Parental responsibility is defined as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a child has in relation to the child and his property.”  What this means is that, by sharing parental responsibility, the parents should consult each other when important decisions need to be made about a child in terms of their education, health, religion or other important matters, such as moving abroad.

In fact, under Section 1 of the Child Abduction Act 1984, a parent will commit a criminal offence if he or she removes a child from the jurisdiction of England and Wales without the consent of the other parent who has parental responsibility.  It is therefore very important for parents to ensure that this consent is obtained even for short holidays abroad during the school holidays.

Primary carers

When parents separate, it is often the case that the children remain living with one parent for the majority of time (this parent is often referred to as the children’s ‘primary carer’) and spend time with the other parent as may be agreed or, if necessary, as ordered by the court.

If parties are unable to agree between themselves about arrangements for the children after-separation, they are, in most cases, encouraged to attempt mediation to explore whether a sensible arrangement can be agreed for the future.  However, any agreement reached in mediation will not be legally binding upon the parties and is therefore only effective if both adhere to the agreement reached.

Children and Families Act 2014

If parents are unable to agree matters at mediation, or any agreement reached at mediation proves to be ineffective, it is possible to apply to apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989.  This type of order was previously known as either a ‘Residence Order’ or ‘Contact Order’ but the terminology changed under the Children and Families Act 2014, with a view to legal procedures being more understandable for non-lawyers and parties involved in court cases.

Ultimately, within Children Act proceedings, the judge or lay justices can make orders regarding child arrangements and, in reaching their judgment, may order for the parents to file evidence or seek for a welfare officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) to carry out investigation and make recommendations.

Single parents who would like legal advice or assistance with matters relating to their children should contact a member of the Family Department at Lyons Davidson Solicitors by calling 0117 904 6000. Our family law experts will be able to offer guidance on the most appropriate way forward, and also offer Legal Aid to those who are eligible or reasonable fixed fees for those who are not eligible for Legal Aid.

For more infomration on any of the issues raised in this article, contact our Family Law team or call 0117 904 6000.