What are parental responsibilities and parental rights? (PRRs)

Parents have a range of responsibilities and rights in relation to their child which include the responsibility and a right to safeguard and promote their child's health, welfare and development, have a say in where the child lives, be involved in their upbringing, act as the child's legal representative and maintain personal relations and contact with the child if they do not live with them.

What rights do dads have if they are not on the birth certificate?

A father who is not married to the child's mother and who is it not named on the birth certificate will not have parental responsibilities and parental rights for the child, unless he is granted them by the court or unless he and the child's mother have entered into a written agreement. Fathers named on birth certificates when the birth was registered on or after 4 May 2006 have full parental responsibilities and rights. Find out more about this here.

Can a mother legally keep her child away from the father?

The legislation states that when making any decision about a child, the court requires to have the child's best interests as its paramount consideration. When parents are making decisions about their child, the child's welfare should be paramount. It is not what is best for mum or dad, but what is best for the child.

There is a great deal of research which demonstrates that it is best for a child that both parents play a role in their life. Indeed, in some countries, the default position is shared parental care post separation but often, and certainly historically, in Scotland when parents separate, there may be a 'resident' parent (with whom the child spends the majority of their time) and a 'contact' parent (with whom the child may exercise residential, non-residential and holiday contact). Shared care where parents do share all parenting and are involved in all aspects of their children's lives (although not necessarily spending equal time with the child) is becoming more common in Scotland.

If a father has PRRs and there is no compelling reason why contact should be stopped (eg. domestic abuse, alcohol or drug abuse), then the relationship between a father and child should be promoted and contact should take place. Indeed even if one parent (whether the mother or the father) faces such difficulties, if contact can take place safely then it may still be better for the child to maintain a relationship with that parent than to have no relationship at all. Further information about how to progress contact disputes can be found at our 'route map'.

Can a mother move a child away from the father?

If, as a parent, you plan to move abroad with a child, you must obtain the consent of the other parent to remove the child from the United Kingdom (provided the other parent has PRRs). If he or she refuses to give their consent, then an application must be made to the court seeking permission to relocate with the child outside the United Kingdom.

A decision for a child to relocate involves a delicate balancing exercise in which (as above) the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration. When considering applications for relocation, the court will carry out a welfare assessment and decide whether or not it would be in the best interests of the child to relocate.

On one view, if a parent plans a move within the United Kingdom this is a decision which can be made without the consent of the other parent. That would, however, fly in the face of the duty to consult the other parent in relation to important welfare decisions. Recently, courts have been treating relocation within the United Kingdom in a similar way to international relocations. The parent planning such a move may be expected to make application to the court if the other parent objects. It is worthwhile noting that the 'remaining parent' can apply to the court for an order preventing the move.

As with any issues involving children, it is always best if parents can openly discuss the potential relocation and agree matters directly, or attempt to do so in mediation, rather than involving the court.

What contact ('access') is a father entitled to?

There is no 'one answer fits all' to this question. Each case depends on its own facts, taking into account factors such as the family routine, geography, work schedules and personal circumstances. Yet again, the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration. For some children, especially very young children and infants, 'little and often' contact works well, whilst other families are more suited to a 'shared care' or 'week about' routine.

Whatever routine is put in place, it should be reviewed regularly with parents ensuring it works well for the child and they are happy and settled in the routine. What children think matters a great deal. Parents should think carefully about explaining the fact of their separation to their children together, if possible and doing so in a child friendly way. The details are irrelevant and might even be distressing for the child to hear but what does matter is reassuring the child of their parents' continued love. Children need to be given clear, practical information about where everyone will live, and what will happen about school, hobbies and friendships. The law recognises that even very young children have a right to be heard. Parents should take into account their child's thoughts and feelings about life post separation without allowing them to feel burdened by final decisions.


Kate Bradbury