Family and Children

If your relationship has broken down then we can find a barrister to help advise on how you and your former partner can continue your relationships with your children.

Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility covers the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and the child’s property, including:

Religious upbringing
Protection from publicity
Medical treatment
Removal out of the jurisdiction
Consent to marriage
Agreement to adoption
Appointment of guardian
Administration of property

Who has Parental Responsibility?
Married parents have joint parental responsibility. If the parents are not married, only the mother automatically has parental responsibility.

How can an unmarried father acquire Parental Responsibility?
This can be done in a number of ways including:

If the child is born on or after 1 December 2003, by registration on the child’s birth certificate with the consent of the mother;
By entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother;
By applying to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order;
By being appointed a guardian by the mother or the Court;
By obtaining a Residence Order from the Court;
By marrying the mother.

Different rules apply to step parents.


A Residence Order specifies where and with whom a child should live. It is only necessary for a court to decide this if the adults cannot agree.

There is no rule in law, by the way, to say that children should normally live with their mother rather than their father, although statistically of course that’s more common. There is a tendency however for Courts to be slow to change an arrangement already made and working; and Courts are always reluctant to split children up if at all possible.


Disputes over contact are, sadly, some of the most bitter Court cases.

Research has shown that contact with an absent parent is vital for a child to maintain his/her sense of identity as part of growing up as a whole being. There is, in short, a presumption that contact will be in the child’s best interests and Courts will normally order contact save in exceptional circumstances. They will also be prepared to make sure that their orders actually work.

Where abuse has occurred and may be relevant, a Court will have to look at it very seriously to decide what did happen; what effects it has had; at the parents’ attitude to what has happened; and their ability to recognise its significance.

Contact can take many forms. With very small children, ‘little and often’ is the guideline. For many families with school age children, the norm is for them to spend every other weekend with the other parent, and a fair amount of time at holidays. Of course, for families who live far apart, this may not be possible, but letters, telephone calls and photographs may be exchanged as forms of ‘indirect contact’.

If contact cannot take its normal form, perhaps because of serious concerns about the other parent, it may still be possible at one of the many voluntary Contact Centres that have sprung up across the country. It may be supervised by an appropriate person, although these procedures should normally be regarded as short term only.

Care Proceedings

If your Local Authority Social Services Department warn you that your children may be removed from your care, or you wish to apply to discharge a Care or Placement Order, you should take legal advice straight away. If your child is being taken into care, or there are problems within the family which mean that care proceedings look likely, you’ll need the best legal advice. 

Non-Parent and Grandparent Applications

One of the big changes in the Children Act 1989 was to place much greater emphasis on the role of grandparents and the wider family in the lives of children. If things go wrong, there is no doubt that Social Services will look first to the wider family before making alternative plans for foster care.

Under the Children Act, any person concerned about a child can apply to a court for an order about a child’s welfare: but only the parents can apply as of right; any other person must go through a preliminary step, to apply for leave from the court to make an application.


Adoption from Care. In situations particularly where the family have been involved in social services or care proceedings, children are not able to carrying on living with their natural parents. The alternative can be adoption, which will result in the natural parents losing their parental responsibility for the child, and the full rights and duties of a parent are acquired by the adoptive family. These cases involve difficult and sensitive issues and need specialist knowledge and experience in this area of law.

Step Parent Adoption. In order for a child to be fully integrated into their new family, step parents may feel it necessary to adopt their step child as they may feel it is in their step child’s best interests. Step parent adoption may be the best solution for a child, but there are also other options which we can advise on, which give the step parent legal status and recognition of their involvement with their step child, whilst enabling the child’s relationship with the non–resident birth parent to continue.

Domestic Abuse

An outline of Domestic Abuse
Domestic abuse is any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between adults who are, or have been, in a relationship together, or between family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.

Whatever form it takes, domestic abuse is rarely a one–off incident. More usually it’s a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviour, through which the abuser seeks power over their victim.

Domestic abuse occurs across society, regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality, wealth or geography. The figures show, however, that it consists mainly of abuse by men against women.

Victims of domestic abuse suffer on many levels — health, housing, education — and lose the freedom to live their lives without fear. Our Family and Relationship Team can offer help and support to victims of domestic abuse, and can guide and advise you through a number of new measures designed to deal with this difficult and unpleasant situation.

Domestic abuse costs the lives of more than 2 women every week. Following the advent of new laws, a national action plan has been published that sets out the progress made so far in tackling the crime and outlines future proposals to further improve support to victims and bring more perpetrators to justice.

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