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Who knows best – Parents, Child or Court?

There is a general presumption that the parents of a child are the best people to make decisions about that child. There can be occasions when parents make a decision that is not considered to be in the best interests of the child.

At the extreme end of the spectrum, cases can involve child protection issues about which there are clear laws in place (such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation) but there can also be occasions where there is a dispute as to what is in the best interests of the child, whether between the parents themselves or between the parents and medical/education professionals.

Parental responsibility is defined by the Children Act 1989 as “all the rights duties, powers, responsibilities and authorities which by law a parent of the child has in relation to the child and his property”. This means that those with parental responsibility should jointly make decisions about the health, education, religious beliefs and overall welfare of the child.

There have also been occasional cases (such as Alfie Evans in April 2018) whereby public authorities, such as the medical profession and on occasions Social Services, can apply to override the decision of a parent (or even both parents) who has exercised parental responsibility on a certain issue.

The recent film “the Children Act” starring Emma Thompson highlights an example whereby even when the parents and child agree, legal assistance may be required if their views do not accord with those of the medical professionals.

In the past, the Court has made decisions stating that children should undergo specific medical treatment to which their parents oppose (for religious or other reasons) and in a recent case a judge ruled that the father’s objections to the mother’s choice of school could be overruled.

These cases are rare; more often parents involved in a relationship breakdown will disagree as to the way in which parental responsibility is exercised and will find themselves in conflict. There are many solutions to such disputes such as mediation, collaborative law and arbitration. If none of these options are appropriate an application can be made to court either for a “Specific Issue Order” asking for specific steps to be taken in relation to a child such as medical issues or schooling or “Prohibitive Steps Order” preventing one parent from taking certain steps.

Rayden Solicitors have a great deal of experience in all matters concerning children law and are very willing to discuss any concerns or queries that may arise as a result of this article. If you would like to speak to me or one of our other family law specialists please contact us.

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