In theory childcare is quite simple as it is your duty as a parent to look after your child. But what happens when parents divorce? How does a court decide access to a child, whether or not they are the biological children of the parents in question? In this article we will look at some of the legal issues around childcare.


In legal terms a parent is expected to take on certain responsibilities (this changed in recent years from using terms such as “duties” or “rights”). In 1933 the Children and Young Persons Act was brought in so a parent would be criminally liable if it is proven that a child is neglected or harmed in a parent’s care (you are also liable if a child is harmed by a babysitter).

Neglect is defined as not properly looking after children – this includes not providing sufficient food, clothing, healthcare or housing. In 1989, the Children Act was brought in to define this responsibility (in this case a child is defined as someone under the age of 18 in your care. This is automatic if you’re a biological parent and is assumed if you receive an adoption order).

Parental responsibility is maintained even if parents divorce or separate. In 2002 the rules changed and the Adoption and Children Act meant that unmarried fathers could be re-registered, giving them parental responsibility.


The UN Convention on Rights of the Child was brought in 1989 to ensure children had the right to education, protection from exploitation and the right to have their views listened to. Broadly speaking, this can also cover other aspects such as-

• Punishment – While it is not illegal to smack a child, the law states that punishment should not go beyond “reasonable chastisement” (in effect violence that can be equated to assault, though the definition can vary.)
• Employment – 14 year olds can do light work but cannot do so before 7am or after 7pm on school days (with some exceptions such as farmwork or licensed modelling)
• Leaving home – Children can’t be physically restrained from leaving a family home. After the age of 16 (“age of discretion”) a court is unlikely to force a child to go back to their home if they leave.


It is illegal for a parent to take a child out of the UK without another parent’s consent. In 2004, the Civil Partnership rules were brought in so that civil partners could have similar access rights to married couples. When it comes to maintenance a court will look at the circumstances of each parent to see what is appropriate both in terms of what needs to be paid and how much access the parent is allowed.

Sensitive issue

As you can see there are a few issues that can potentially arise for parents. There are a few potential grey areas, especially in terms of what can constitute responsibility, access and so forth. This is why at Larcomes we believe in providing a legal service for parents that helps them deal with these issues in a sensitive and appropriate way.

For more information please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your circumstances in greater detail.