Written by Rachel Duke

Solicitor at Aletta Shaw

Rachel specialises in all aspects of family law with a particular emphasis on complex financial cases involving substantial assets; private children matters, divorce proceedings; civil partnership disputes; pre & post nuptial agreements; domestic violence issues and financial provision for children for unmarried parents.

The first key question here is whether you share something called ‘parental responsibility’ (PR). Parental responsibility is a legal status that mother’s automatically have immediately from the birth of a child. If you are a father who was married to the mother when the child is born, then you will also automatically have PR for your child.

Unmarried fathers don’t automatically share PR from the child’s birth, but these days they will share it automatically as long as they are named on the child’s birth certificate. This is the case for any child born after 1st December 2003.

If neither of these scenarios apply to you then you can acquire PR with the mother’s agreement, or by applying to the court for a parental responsibility order.

Sharing parental responsibility means that both parents have to consult each other about important decisions relating to bringing up their children.

Sharing parental responsibility means that both parents have to consult each other about important decisions relating to bringing up their children. That doesn’t mean that you have to do this in relation to routine, everyday decisions, but it does include changing a child’s name or doctor’s surgery. So, if you share parental responsibility then in theory you should never be in this situation.

But sometimes it happens and if so, what should you do?

The first thing to do is to make sure that you act quickly. The law sets out certain factors that are relevant to deciding these kind of issues. One of those factors is to consider the effect upon a child of a change to his or her circumstances. If you leave it too long after the change has been made to object, then you could find yourself in a situation in which it won’t be in your child’s interests for the change to be reversed because a new ‘status quo’ has been established. There could be an issue with losing the place at the previous school or surgery.

If you do find yourself in this situation, then it would be wise to seek urgent legal advice about how best to proceed.

You should immediately notify the other parent that you don’t agree to the change. You should also notify both schools / GP practices and the relevant education / health authority.

It is generally worth trying to sort these issues out by agreement if possible. You should try to find out why your ex has done this. Is the GP surgery more convenient? Does it have a wider range of services? Does it have better reviews? Although you should have been consulted, it may be that it is in fact better for your child. That is the question that you should ask yourself. If you still don’t agree then you should explain your reasons and request that the change is immediately reversed.

If the other parent is not willing to cooperate then you can apply to court for a specific issues order. This type of order does what it says on the tin. In this case the issue is the proposed change of school or doctor. The court will have to decide if the change is in your child’s best interests. The court will want to see a good reason for it.

You should research and compare both schools including reading the latest Ofsted inspection reports. If you don’t already have them, you should get copies of your child’s recent school reports to see how they were doing at the previous school. You should speak to the teachers also. Is the new school more difficult for you to get to, so that you won’t be able to pick up your child, or drop him or her off anymore? . Is the new school fee-paying? Who is going to pay the fees? You will need to be able to explain all the reasons why you don’t believe that the proposed change is better for your child.

If you don’t have PR then the other parent does not have to consult you before changing your child’s school or doctors. This is one of the reasons why PR is very important for both parents. But you can still apply to the court for a specific issues order if you don’t think that the change is in your child’s best interests.

If you get wind that a change of school or doctors is proposed but hasn’t yet happened, then you should immediately get legal advice. It may be that you want to apply to court for something called a prohibited steps order to stop the change happening in the first place.

Ultimately it is far better to avoid these situations happening if possible. It may be worth considering why your ex didn’t consult you. Mediation might help the two of you improve your communication, trust and joint parenting.

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