This question is best answered by giving a few example of situations in which parents trying to share parental responsibility do not agree about the way a child should be brought up.
In most cases, the court can be asked to make a decision when parents cannot agree.
In most cases, the court will give very serious consideration to the wishes of the parent who is the main or primary carer.
Ordinary everyday decisions about what a child should eat or who a child should spend time with will generally be assumed to be down to the parent with whom the child is with at the relevant time. The court will only interfere if the decision of that person is going to cause the child some harm.
For example, a mother may try to make sure that a child has a varied diet and eats vegetables. Father, who maybe does not see the child very often, maybe is not a good cook or does not have good cooking facilities etc wants to take the child to Macdonalds. A court is unlikely to interfere unless there is a serious problem such as a food allergy.
The non-resident parent may want the child to spend time with his grandfather. The mother may not like the grandfather. The court is only likely to interfere if the child is at some sort of risk.
The court can also consider making other orders to ensure the smooth running of the child’s relationship with his parents. For example, it could say there should be a contact order to father, with a condition that father does not bring the child into contact with the grandfather either at all or unless the father is present, depending on the circumstances and the harm that the child might suffer if the contact order is made. Conditions to orders can be very specific. They could include:
• the child is not to be brought into contact with person X;
• the child is only allowed to be in contact with person X if another responsible adult is present;
• the child is not allowed to be taken to place Y;
• the child is not to be given certain foods;
• the parent having contact must inform the mother if a certain event happens such as a medical emergency;
• the parent having contact must supply the other parent with a telephone number;
• the parent having contact must tell the other parent where the child will be sleeping during overnight contact;
• the parent with whom the child lives must tell the other parent about significant school events such as parents’ evenings;
• the parent with whom the child lives must keep the other parent informed about medical appointments etc.
This list is endless.
The court can also make other orders under section 8 of the Children Act (residence orders, contact orders, prohibited steps orders and specific issue orders. For example, an order could be made saying that the child should go to a particular school or should not be taken out of the country.
The court is unlikely to intervene in relation to relatively minor issues about which parents commonly fall out. However, the smooth running of family relationships after adults have separated is not going to be assisted if you act provocatively. It may be tempting to allow the child to have a skinhead haircut or have their ears pierced but unless you have cleared this with the other parent you run the risk of an argument at the very least or a refusal to allow contact.
It is advisable to consult or inform the other parent before you introduce a child to your new partner, allow the child to see a controversial or slightly adult content film, make any major purchases (such as a computer) or start the child on a special diet or course of medication. These may seem minor things but they have consequences for both parents. For example, if a mother knows that a child is about to meet a new partner, she can help prepare the child for the meeting and hopefully reassure the child that this is okay with her. If you do not consult about major purchases both parents may end up buying the same thing. You also need to consider where the child is going to keep something like a computer. It may be tempting to have it at your home but maybe the child would like to have it at their main residence. The solution could be to buy a laptop.