On Monday the 18th January 2016, some parts of the Child and Family Relationships Act 2015 were commenced. These changes in legislation may have a direct impact on those parenting alone, sharing parenting and parenting after separation so the following information on Guardianship, Custody, Access and Maintenance may be relevant to you:
- For an unmarried father this means that he may automatically become a guardian of his child if he has lived with the mother on a continuous basis for 12 months and at least 3 of these months must be after the birth of the child.
This 12 month period only takes effect from the date this was enacted, so from the 18th January 2016 and is not retrospective.
- For other family members, such as grandparents, civil partners, step-parents and others who have acted in “loco parentis” (in the place of the parent) of a child they may apply to court for guardianship. The requirements for this is that a person is in a relationship, either in marriage or civil partnership, or has lived with the parent of a child for over 3 years and has shared the day to day care of the child for at least 2 years.
- If a person has cared for a child on a day to day to basis, continuously for 12 months and there is no parent or guardian able or willing to exercise the rights and responsibilities for the child then they may apply for guardianship, so for example this may be a grandparent caring for their grandchild or a foster parent caring for a child.
- For grandparents the Act means that they can now apply directly to the District court for access with their grandchildren, if they do not already have access.
- A court may make an order for custody following an application by a person other than the mother or father. This may be a person who is a relative of the child; it may be a person with who the child has resided with, or if the person is married to, in a civil partnership with or who has cohabited with the parent of the child for at least 3 years and has been involved in the day to day care of the child for at least 2 years. A person may also seek custody where the child has resided with this person who has had day to day care of the child and who does not have a parent or guardian who is able or willing to take on the responsibilities of being the guardian.
- A maintenance order may be sought, requiring the cohabiting partner of a child’s parent to pay maintenance for the child, provided they are a guardian of the child.
- These relate to access and custody whereby if a court order is made in respect of custody or access and this is unreasonably denied or not taken up then a parent or guardian may apply for an enforcement order. Such an order may require that:
A parent or guardian, or both attend counselling, mediation or a parenting programme
That additional access may be granted
That a parent or guardian be reimbursed for expenses as a result of the denial of access or the refusal to take up access.
Any decision made by the court will be made in the best interests of the child and the court will consider the views of the child where possible given his/her age and understanding.