Parental responsibility is the obligation to act in the best interest of the child
The issue of parental responsibility comes to the fore when parents separate or when they divorce. The law presumes that despite the breakdown in the relationship between the parents, the relationship of the parents to their children should be kept intact as this is in the best interest of the children.
When parents separate from or divorce each other then, major questions of fact arise: with whom shall the children live; how shall they maintain contact with their other parent with whom they do not live; how much time shall they spend with each parent; who shall make decisions that affect their welfare; how shall decisions affecting their long-term welfare be reached.
If the parents can agree between themselves regarding these issues, the parents can put their agreement in writing in what is called a parenting agreement or a parenting plan. When parents cannot agree, services for dispute resolution
are available to them so that they can be assisted in ironing out a parenting agreement or parenting plan. If dispute resolution is ineffectual and the parents still cannot agree, the matter can be brought to family court. It will then be the family court which will decide on the matter of parental responsibility
Generally, when an action is brought to the family court regarding parenting arrangements for the children, the court respects the status quo: this means that the parent or adult with whom the children are living at the time that the case was brought to court will usually get to keep the children with him or her during the pendency of the case. This ensures continuity and stability in the life of the children.
There are instances when allowing the children to remain with the parent with whom they are living with is not in the best interest of the children. The family court will then consider placing the child with other adults who are significant to the children such as grandparents, uncles or aunts while the question of who will be responsible for the children is determined by the court.
The behavior of the parents will be scrutinized by the family court. For instance, when the father leaves the family home during the separation
and enters into a new relationship and in doing so, neglects to provide for the children, then this may affect the amount of responsibility the court will allot to the father in the interim or final parenting order
If for example, after the separation, one parent commits a crime or develops a substance abuse disorder, this will also affect the allotment of parental responsibility by the court to that parent. Parenting orders affecting the welfare of children are based on evidence of facts in each particular case.