Children: Rights, Support, Access and Relocation
The laws that govern children's rights and the roles and responsibilities of parents and guardians are complex and understandably daunting for anyone who cares for children. Often our recourse to the law is in difficult circumstances, for example during the break up of a relationship, or when deciding to adopt. Sadly emotions run high at that time, and getting to grips with this technical area of family law can be tough.
Children's Human Rights
The first thing to note is that children have human rights, as described by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) , which applies to all youngsters under the age of 17. The UK government has ratified this law, and therefore is bound to uphold its provisions.
Under the UNCRC, children have the right to life, survival and development. Children also have the right to a name and nationality, the right to live with a family, the right to health and welfare, education and leisure.
The Child Support Act 1991, the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 and the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 provide that non-resident parents must provide financial support for their children and resident parent in the form of a regular child maintenance payment.
The law allows parents to come to a private arrangement regarding the amount of maintenance payable and the frequency of payments made. The law also provides a mechanism for ensuring that payment is enforced in situations where an agreement cannot be reached, or where one partner is unwilling to pay.
When couples separate they often apply for rights of residency or contact orders under section 8 of the Children Act 1989. When considering such an application, a court will often seek out a welfare report to assess the best interests of the child or children. Residence orders determine where the child will live, and gives legal responsibility to the parent granted the order. Contact orders allow another person, usually the other parent, the right to visit, spend time with or even stay with the child or children involved in the case.
In some limited circumstances it may be possible to prevent a contact order being granted, although you would normally have to show that it was not only not in the best interests of the child or children, but also that there was a risk of potential harm by allowing the other party access to them. Your family lawyer would need to rebut a strong family law presumption that some contact with both parents is overwhelmingly in the child's best interests. Complete denial of contact usually only occurs in violent or abusive cases.
UK and international law prevents a parent from removing a child from England and Wales without the permission of all persons with parental responsibility for that child. The law does allow those with residence orders the right to take children on holiday, but restricts this to less than one month without additional permission.
Cases more commonly arise when one parent with residency wishes to relocate to another part of the UK. The law allows this to happen in all but the most exceptional circumstances. In reality the child's best interests are again paramount, and case law such as Re F (Internal Relocation)  EWCA Civ 1428 asserts that restrictions can be placed on where a parent may move their children to but only in 'exceptional' circumstances.