Focus On: Parental Responsibility – Children’s Health

21 December 2021 
2 minutes
Family Law

When dealing with issues regarding children’s health, it is important to establish who has parental responsibility. In Northern Ireland, Parental Responsibility can be acquired in a number of different ways. Article 6 of the Children (NI) Order 1995 defines the meaning of parental responsibility as ‘…all rights, duties, powers, responsibilities of authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.’ If both parents share parental responsibility for a child, they have equal rights in respect of their child and should be in agreement when making decisions in relation to the child’s health.

What remedies are available if separated parents disagree over what steps to take in relation to their child’s health?

There are times when parents may not agree on decisions about their child’s health. For instance, in Northern Ireland, all young people aged 12 to 15 years are being offered the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. If parents cannot reach an agreement on whether or not their child should receive the vaccination, the best course of action is to discuss the issue to try to reach an agreed resolution. If discussions between the two parents are not effective, an alternative approach is to attend mediation. The aim of mediation is to encourage parents to discuss their issues with the support of an impartial and independent mediator who can assist them in reaching a consensus.

What if mediation does not work?

If no agreement can be reached or meditation breaks down, the Courts can be asked to adjudicate. An application can be made by either parent under Article 8 of the Children (NI) Order 1995 for either a:

  1. Prohibited Steps Order – An Order that no step could be taken by a parent in meeting his parental responsibility for a child, and is of a kind specified in the order, shall be taken by any person without the consent of the Court;
  2. Specific Issue Order – An Order giving directions for the purpose of determining a specific question which has arisen, or which may arise, in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child.

When determining the issue, the Court’s paramount concern is the welfare of the child. Under Article 3 of the Children (NI) Order 1995, the Court must have regard for the following factors:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in light of the child’s upbringing and understanding)
  • The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
  • The likely effect on the child of any change in his circumstances
  • The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics which the Court considers relevant
  • Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk from suffering
  • How capable of meeting the child’s needs are each of the parents and any of person in relation to whom the Court considers the question to be relevant
  • The range of powers available to the Court under this Order in the proceedings in question

If you have questions or concerns about any of the points raised in this article, the Family Law team at MKB Law can provide the help and assistance you require.

This article is for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional legal advice.

MKB Law is regulated by the Law Society of Northern Ireland. Content is copyright © MKB Law 2024. Terms & Conditions apply.