Published on December 31, 2022

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.

Rachel Duke contributed to the Separating With Children 101′, 3rd edition, (Bath Publishing, 2023)

This article has been written by…

And is in relation to the topic…

The Impact On Children

It is so easy to be told that you need to put your children first when we are separating, but what does it actually mean? When your life is turmoil and emotions are running high this can feel daunting when there are so many things to think about. If you have a child with someone, then regardless of whatever you think of them or whatever they might have done, they will still have an important role to play in the life of your child. Exceptions to this are rare. Possessive language that excludes or minimises the role of the other parent can negatively impact the relationship between that parent and the child and can increase conflict and make it more difficult to co-parent. We know that conflict and/or parental absence in particular has a negative impact on children.

Parents need to create the right conditions for children to thrive.

For children, whilst separation will bring inevitable feelings of loss and change, they can still thrive if their parents work in partnership to create the right conditions. We know that children are more likely to adapt with fewer problems, and less emotional distress, when parents are able to part with compassion and continue to work together in partnership even when they are not together. On this hub you will find lots of article and tips on how to minimise the impact on children. For example; how do you set up two homes? How do you co-parent well? What does it mean to put your children first? How do you tell your child you are separating? What do I tell the school? What about holidays? And much more...

Related Articles

How To Spot A Narcassist

The term ‘narcissist’ has become very popular since lockdown in 2019 to describe anyone who might be very ‘full of themsel...

What Is A School Counsellor?

What Is School Counselling? School counselling is a confidential service that allows students to talk to a qualified counsellor within the s...

My Child Doesn’t Want To Leave Me At The School Gates

Most parents have been there; you get to the school gates, ready to hand over to your child’s teacher for the school day and your chil...