Parental Responsibility gives you the legal authority to make important decisions about your child/ren and their upbringing. These could include where the child/ren will go to school, which vaccinations the child/ren should have, or whether they should have a religious education.

In most circumstances, parents and carers will be able to speak to each other about their views and concerns and reach the decision they believe is right for their child. Parents and carers can be assisted in reaching an agreement with one another by seeking outside help from professionals - from family therapists to mediators.

While mediation is a voluntary process, if both parents or carers are on board, a mediator can help them to resolve their disagreements in a gentler and more cost-effective way than pursuing an application to the court. Our Family Law Mediation service helps people to communicate with each other to resolve conflict in a positive way and reach solutions which suit the family's needs.

Although mediation can be very effective, it is not the right option for everyone and, in some circumstances, it may not be appropriate. Alternative forms of dispute resolution may also be explored. Ultimately, if an agreement cannot be reached, a Specific Issue Order can be sought from the family court to determine a specific question which has arisen, or which may arise, in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child. In the alternative, a Prohibited Steps Order can be sought from the family court to prevent someone with parental responsibility from taking a certain action or making a certain decision in relation to a child, if the other parent or carer disagrees with it.

It is well publicised that the family court system is facing significant backlogs, delays and issues with judicial capacity. These delays can cause significant uncertainty for families, as well as creating additional stress and increasing costs. Where practical issues, such as where a child attends school or whether they should receive a vaccination, need to be decided according to a certain timescale, delays can cause serious problems.

Where there are no safeguarding concerns and the parents/ carers are looking for a legal determination, arbitration offers an alternative to the court process. The benefits to arbitration are that it can be highly efficient - it can take place within a much shorter time frame, parties have greater control over the process - and the parties can decide who the arbitrator is, as well as where and when the arbitration is to take place. An independent social worker can be involved, which can avoid the delays caused by waiting for a Cafcass social worker to produce a report, for example. It is also usually more cost-effective than court in terms of legal fees.

Ultimately, those with parental responsibility and any professionals advising them should always be focused on the welfare of the child or children involved. However, we recognise that being flexible, open to talking and reaching a compromise can be very challenging where relationships between adults break down and there are important issues at stake. Our team at Birketts conduct matters in accordance with the Resolution Code of Practice and aim for a non-confrontational and constructive approach. We will always support you in making decisions that will benefit and be in the best interests of your child/ren.

If you are finding it difficult to reach an agreement with your children's parent or carer, contact a member of theFamily Teamat Birketts to talk about a way forward.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.