TV Soap Brings Parental Responsibility Issues to the Fore

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A recent Coronation Street storyline has aired depicting mediation between a biological parent and a non-biological parent who has raised the child for many years.
Cobbled Street
Viewers have seen David Platt fighting for his rights to see his step son Max, who he has raised for many years with his wife and Max's biological mother, Kylie. Max's biological father, Callum, has since come back on the scene following Kylie's disappearance, resulting in a battle between Callum and David over who should look after the child.

Family disputes like this are all too often reality, with many people experiencing very similar difficulties. But how does the law stand in reality for us?

What Is Parental Responsibility and Who Has It?

A main issue is who has parental responsibility, and if not, how you are able to get it?

Parental responsibility is defined in law as the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which a parent of a child has in relation to the child and their property. It gives you the right to make decisions about the upbringing and care of the child.

The mother of the child automatically has parental responsibility, therefore Kylie as the mother will already have this. Callum also has parental responsibility as he is named on the birth certificate.

Although David is married to Kylie, and has acted as a father to Max for many years, he does not have parental responsibility.

Commenting on the storyline, Family Law expert Jenine Abdo based in Cardiff said;

"It is often the case that a partner joins the family and raises the children as though they are his own for many years.

"By this time, you feel that in many respects the child is your own. Separation can be upsetting and unsettling both for the stepparent and the child."

Child Arrangement Orders

The main issue in Coronation Street is 'Who can have custody?' The terms 'access' and 'custody', although used in order to help people associate, are not the correct legal terms.

If you are in David or Callum's situation you would need to apply for something called a Child Arrangement Order for a court order for either contact or residence with the child.

Only certain people can apply for a Child Arrangement Order. This includes anyone with parental responsibility, and anyone who has lived with the child for at least 3 years.

If David does not have parental responsibility and has not lived with the child for 3 years, then he may need to seek permission from the court as a stepfather to be able to apply for a Child Arrangement Order.

What Is Taken Into Account?

In all cases involving children, the child's needs and welfare are paramount. When going to court, CAFCASS will be notified, and they will conduct safeguarding checks and look into the parents' history.

In any court proceedings involving children, a 'welfare checklist' must also be taken into account by the court in making their decision. Some things that the court must consider are;

  • The wishes and feelings of the child (in consideration of their age and understanding)
  • The child's physical, emotional and/or educational needs
  • The likely effect on the child of changes in circumstances
  • The child's age, sex, background and any characteristics the court considers relevant
  • Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
  • The capability of the parents or applicants in meeting the child's needs

Mediation

Before being able to apply to the court for a Child Arrangement Order, it is required that you first try to resolve the issues using mediation. Mediation is a requirement in most issues concerning children, but certain cases can be exempt. This includes cases involving domestic violence, or people with disabilities.

Jenine highlights the importance of using mediation;

"Going to court can be a very lengthy process that can cause a huge amount of distress for the family and children involved. When the issue is over residence and contact with the child, drawn out proceedings are not in the interests of the child, especially if this could have been solved at a quarter of the cost and time through mediation."

"It is very important that a mediator is contacted as soon as possible. Solving the issue amicably through mediation can stop issues escalating."




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