Parental Responsibility

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Being a parent brings with it many joys and rewards, though most parents would agree that with these rewards comes a lifetime of responsibility.  
It is the job of both parents of a child to ensure that this responsibility is taken seriously and exercised in the best interests of their children.
What is Parental Responsibility?

Parental Responsibility is a legal term which reflects the rights parents in Northern Ireland have to be involved in making decisions in the best interests of their children.

Parental Responsibility is defined in the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 as “all rights duties powers and responsibilities and authority which by law a parent has in relation to the child and his property”.

In practical terms what does Parental Responsibility mean?

In terms of education, for example, any parent with Parental Responsibility has the right to be involved in choosing their child’s school, to be notified of school events and to be sent copies of the child’s school reports. They may also provide consent with regards to what information is released about their child and having an input in regards to how their child is disciplined.

Parents with Parental Responsibility also have the right to give consent to medical treatment, to determine the child’s religion, to be involved in choosing their child’s name and to agree to any change of name.

In summary, Parental Responsibility provides you, as the child’s parent, with the right to make decisions in the following aspects of your child’s life:

  • providing a home for your child
  • protecting and maintaining your child
  • how your child is disciplined
  • choosing the school in which your child will be educate
  • determining the religious upbringing of your child
  • consenting to medical treatment of your child
  • providing or allowing any confidential information about your child which is requested to be disclosed

Having Parental Responsibility also includes the following: 

  • naming your child and agreeing to any change of your child’s name;
  • applying for a passport for your child;
  • accompanying your child outside of the UK and agreeing to your child’s emigration
  • being responsible for your child’s property, for instance if your child inherits property at an early age;
  • appointing a guardian for your child
Do all mothers have Parental Responsibility?

In Northern Ireland, every mother automatically has Parental Responsibility for their child.

Do all fathers have Parental Responsibility?

Fathers in Northern Ireland are often not aware that they do not necessarily have automatic Parental Responsibility over their child.

A father who is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth will have automatic Parental Responsibility, as will a father who adopts a child.

How can I acquire Parental Responsibility for my child?

If you are a father who falls outside the above categories, you  can legally acquire Parental Responsibility after the birth of your child in a number of ways, for instance:

  • If your child was born after 1st December 2003, you acquire Parental Responsibility if your name has been put on your child’s birth certificate.
  • If you and the child’s mother enter a Parental Responsibility Agreement
  • If the Court makes a Parental Responsibility Orderin your favour

If the Court makes an order for the child to reside with the father, he will obtain Parental Responsibility by virtue of that order.

A stepfather may also acquire Parental Responsibility by applying to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order.

What happens to Parental Responsibility if parents separate?

Both parents may continue to exercise Parental Responsibility following separation and are entitled to be involved in decisions about their children’s upbringing.

Sometimes parents with Parental Responsibility can disagree about how these rights are exercised.  If they cannot resolve this disagreement, they may apply to the Court which will decide the issue on the basis of what it considers to be the child’s best interests.

If you would like further information on Parental Responsibility, please feel free to email us here or leave your comments below

Protecting Yourself from Cyber-Scams when Buying a House

CALL CHECK CONFIRM MARCH 2019 from Paul O’Connor on Vimeo.

A new awareness campaign has been launched by the Law Society of NI aimed at reducing the threat posed by cyber-criminals targeting home-buyers, sellers, lenders and solicitors in Northern Ireland.

The ‘Call, Check and Confirm’, campaign provides guidance, information and recommended actions to all parties involved in a house sale or purchase.

The above short video has been produced by the Law Society of NI and highlights the various ways in which you can safeguard against falling victim to a cyber-criminal when buying a house.

For further information on buying and selling houses in NI, please feel free to contact us here or using the contact form below.

 

 

 

Making a Will

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We all know the saying, ‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’. However, with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it is sometimes difficult to make any plans at all!

Few people would deny the sense in making a Will, and most of us have at one stage or another considered it, but many of us just don’t get round to the task. Everyday life seems to get in the way and besides, talking about death is a little depressing don’t you think?!

Why should I make a Will?

Well, there is nothing morbid about making a Will – you can rest assured that it does not hasten the event! In reality, taking a little time to plan how you would wish your assets to be distributed upon death and knowing that your family and children have been properly provided for as per your wishes goes some way to relieving the stresses and worries that many of us may have about death, particularly as we get older. Essentially, by making a Will, you control who inherits and how much of your estate each of your chosen beneficiaries receive.

What if I have not made a Will?

If you have not made a Will, then laws made many years ago (which many people feel are now outdated) direct who the recipients of your estate will be. In today’s world, the patterns of family life are much more diverse and a family may include the following:-

  • Children by more than one partner
  • Step-children
  • Long-term unmarried partners.

If you have not made a Will, these are all complicating factors. For example, if you are unmarried but have a long term partner and child together, your child will inherit your estate if you die without a Will and NOT your partner. Yet most unmarried couples would wish, and expect, that their partner would be first in line to inherit, and their child second. If married, your partner moves to first in line but does not necessarily take all of your estate. Therefore, if you wish to have the reassurance that each and every member of your family is accounted for upon your death, making a Will is the best option for you.

Planning ahead can save you money and heartache, and most importantly will ensure YOU are in control of what happens after your death.

For more information on how to make a Will, please feel free to contact us here or alternatively leave your details below. 

 

Legal Protection from Stalking and Harassment

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National Stalking Awareness Week 2019 runs this week from Monday 8th April 2019 to Friday 12th April 2019.

Many people associate the notion of stalking as something experienced only by those in the public eye – we read stories in the papers of a ‘crazed fan’ being found on a high-profile celebrity’s premises or trolling them online and sending unwanted messages. 

Many would not associate stalking with something that would happen to ordinary people in their in ordinary lives.   However, according to the National Stalking Helpline, approximately 45% of people who contact them are being stalked by people they have previously been in a relationship with, while a further one third will have had some prior acquaintance with their stalker.

What is the definition of stalking?

There is currently no legal definition of stalking, though it is generally seen as behaviour which is persistent and unwanted, and which causes the victim to feel frightened, anxious and distressed.  This persistent and unwanted behaviour can take many forms, including the following:-

  • Following, observing and spying on someone.
  • Non-consensual communication, such as repeated phone calls, emails, text messages, and unwanted gifts.
  • Showing up uninvited at the victim’s home school, or work.
  • Driving past the victim’s home or work.
  • Burglary or robbery or criminal damage of the victim’s home, workplace, vehicle or other property.
  • Threatening the victim, their family, or even pets with violence.
  • Harassment of people associated with the victim (e.g. family members, partner, work colleagues).
  • Physical and/ or sexual assault of the victim.
  • Cyber stalking – i.e. conduct or communication via electronic devices which are intended to distress or harass the victim – for example, sending or leaving unsolicited material/gifts, graffiti, and/or messages on social networking sites.
How can I protect myself if I am being stalked?

The law in Northern Ireland has remedies in place to protect anyone who is being stalked or harassed.

There are different options available for those who are being stalked by a family member and those being stalked by someone unknown or unrelated to them.

  1. Civil Injunction

The Protection from Harassment Order (NI) 1997 provides a victim with the ability to apply to the Court for a Civil Injunction against their stalker.  This remedy can be used where the victim and perpetrator are not related to one another via blood or marriage and indeed even if the perpetrator is not known to the victim.

A Civil Injunction, if granted, stops a person from harassing, assaulting, molesting or otherwise interfering with the victim, including restraining that person from being able to communicate or contact the victim and, in some cases, prohibiting them from being able to enter a certain property or area.

In order to make an application for a Civil Injunction, there must be evidence of two separate incidents of harassment.  It is therefore important that any incident of harassing or threatening behaviour is logged with the Police.

Civil Injunctions can be applied for on an emergency basis without the perpetrator being notified and dependant on a victim’s income, they may be entitled to Legal Aid assistance.

  1. Non-Molestation Order

Under the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Order (NI) 1998, if a victim and the perpetrator are deemed to be ‘associated persons’, then the victim has the option of applying for a Non-Molestation Order against the perpetrator.   In general terms, the parties are deemed to be ‘associated persons’ if they are family members, have lived together in a familial relationship or have a child together.

If a Non-Molestation Order is granted by the Court, the perpetrator cannot molest, harass, pester, use or threaten violence against the victim. It means that they cannot harass the victim directly (in person, by text, phone, email or social media) and they also cannot get someone else to harass them on their behalf.

The Court can also grant a victim an Occupation Order if they live with the perpetrator or if the perpetrator has some right to reside in their home (for example, if they are on the tenancy agreement or a joint owner). If the Court grants an Occupation Order, this means that the perpetrator they can be removed from the home and barred from returning to it.

The Court can also make an exclusion zone, excluding the perpetrator from a particular place, for example from the street in which the victim lives or the place they work.

Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders can be made on an emergency basis if there has been a recent incident of abuse (usually within the past 7 days). Some Legal Aid assistance is available to anyone applying for these Orders.

If you are the victim of stalking or harassment, you should contact the Police as soon as possible and report this behaviour and also seek legal advice on obtaining protection from the Courts.  There are organisations available to provide such support, such as the Domestic and Sexual Violence helpline (0808 8021414) Women’s Aid, the Men’s Advisory Project and The Rainbow Project.  With the help of the police, legal system and support services, you do not have to suffer in silence.  With the right advice and support, you can put an end to the harassment you are suffering and move forward to a happier and healthier life.

For further information on this area, please feel free to contact us here or leave your contact details below.

LIFE BITE: The Blame Game No More – England & Wales to remove fault-based divorce ground.

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It has been announced today that the law governing divorce in England & Wales is to be changed to allow spouses to divorce on a ‘no fault’ ground.

Under the current law, if a couple wishes to divorce without waiting for a period of separation to expire, one of them must allege adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour by the other.

The new reform of the law will remove the need for the end of a marriage to have been someone’s ‘fault’ and instead, a spouse will only need to state that their marriage has broken down irretrievably.  Whilst England & Wales are set to introduce legislation to effect this change as soon as parliamentary time becomes available, the law on divorce will for now remain unchanged in Northern Ireland

What are the current grounds for divorce in NI?

It may be useful to set out the current grounds upon which you can apply for divorce in Northern Ireland.  It is important firstly to highlight that you need to have been married for at least 2 years before divorcing in Northern Ireland.  This does not mean that you are compelled to continue living with your spouse for a full 2 years after marriage– you can of course live separately – however until this time frame has expired, you will be unable to petition for divorce on any of the grounds below.

When applying for divorce, you must show that your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’ and you must satisfy one of the following grounds for divorce in order to evidence this breakdown: –

  1. Unreasonable Behaviour

This is where you must evidence that your spouse has behaved so unreasonably that you can no longer be expected to live with them.  Types of unreasonable behaviour are wide-ranging and can include physical or verbal aggression, emotional abuse, lack of communication, financial control or misconduct and addictions.

  1. Adultery

In order to petition for divorce on the ground of adultery, you need to show the Court that your spouse has committed adultery during the course of the marriage. The person with whom your spouse had the affair can be joined and named in the divorce papers also.

  1. Two Year’s Separation with Consent

This ground is available where both you and your spouse have lived separately for more than 2 years and your spouse consents to the divorce.  You can have been living in the same property during this time but must have lived independently to one another. This can happen where, for example, you both live in the same house but have separate bedrooms and would not cook or clean or spend time with one another.

  1. Desertion for Two Years

This is proven where your spouse has effectively ‘deserted’ you. This ground is technically difficult to prove and is very rarely relied upon in divorce proceedings.

Five Year’s Separation

This ground is available when you and your spouse have lived separate for more than 5 years. You do not require your partner’s consent on this ground.

The introduction of the ‘no fault’ ground will be welcome by many for allowing unhappy couples to formally end their marriage without either person being held responsible, therefore easing some of the stress, pain and bitterness that can often endure during separation.  Some people however would argue that the ‘no fault’ ground may damage the sanctity of marriage and that couples may not think carefully enough before entering into marriage if they feel that they can easily divorce if it doesn’t work out.
Both sides of the argument have valid points however in my experience as a lawyer in this area, no divorce is ever ‘easy’ — feelings are hurt, emotions are high and often children are caught in the middle.  Certainly, a divorce that can be dealt with as amicably, quickly and as cost-effectively as possible for both parties should always be promoted and encouraged.

For further information on any aspect of divorce law and procedure, please feel free to contact us here or by using the form below.