If you have parental responsibility for a child you may make an application for a court order. A mother automatically has parental responsibility, unmarried fathers will also have it if named on the birth certificate and same-sex partners acquire it in certain circumstances.
Parental responsibility is defined by Section 3 of the Act 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'. Having parental responsibility gives you a legal right to be involved in the major decision making in relation to that child.
In many cases where matters are agreed between all parties with parental responsibility, no order in respect of the child will be made.
If you do not have automatically have parental responsibility, say if you are a grandparent, you may still make an application to court but you would need the court’s permission in order to do so.
The Children Act sets out that the child's welfare is the paramount consideration and the court will apply what is known as the 'welfare checklist' to help it work out what is in a child ’s best interest . The welfare checklist looks at:
- The child's wishes and feelings, considered in the light of his/her age and understanding
- Their physical, emotional and educational needs
- Their age, sex, background and any characteristics which the court considers relevant
- The likely effect of any change in the child’s circumstances
- Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- How capable each parent is of meeting the child’s needs.
- The range of powers available to the court.
Even if an application is made to a court in respect of a child, the court will not make the order unless it considers that doing so will be better for the child rather than making no order at all.