Child Law

The Children Act 1989 (the Act) provides the legislative framework to resolve family disputes relating to children. It covers all law relating to child custody, fathers’ rights and much more. The Children Act 1989 changed the approach to how children are treated as part of a divorce and words and phrases which are still in general use today are no longer recognised in law.

I've heard about parental responsibility, what is it?

Parental responsibility recognises the duty of responsibility a parent has towards their Child. For example, it is about giving parents the right to have a say in the main decisions about their children’s lives. Decisions about health, education, religion, potential change of name and consent to a child’s marriage, post-sixteen are included. It basically recognises the everyday reality of being a parent.

Child custody is a phrase which no longer exists within the law. The law now recognises that parents have the primary responsibility for bringing up their children whether or not they live with their children. In general, mothers automatically have parental responsibility and fathers have parental responsibility if:

  • Married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth
  • They marry their child(ren)’s mother after the child(ren) is born
  • They were named on the birth certificate of a child born after 1 December 2003.

What is child custody now called?

Child custody is now known as residence. The Courts will only get involved in child custody issues if the parents cannot agree on residence i.e. where the child(ren) is to live. Such things as father’s rights and joint custody are now covered in the Children Act by the term contact and residence. Again, if parents cannot agree on how to arrange contact then the Courts will get involved and make the decision for them.

So is child support still called maintenance?

In a word, yes! Parents with parental responsibility are responsible for maintaining their child(ren). According to the Child Support Act 1991, maintenance or support is usually required from the parent who is not living with their child(ren). In general the calculations for maintenance are fairly straight forward  and based upon percentage of income and the amount of overnight stays each child has with the non-resident parent. However, we strongly recommended taking your lawyers advice if you have problems getting maintenance for your child(ren).