The Best Interests of the Child and Parental Authority in Philippine Family Law

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Parental authority is a mass of statutory rights and obligations granted to parents for the children’s physical preservation and development; cultivation of intellect; and education of hearts and senses. The father and the mother exercise joint parental authority over their common legitimate children. If the parents disagree; the father’s decision prevails. The mother can contest such decision before a court and obtain a judicial order. In case of separation; the court designates which parent will exercise parental authority; taking into account all relevant considerations. For the illegitimate children; parental authority is exercised by the mother; regardless of whether the father admits paternity. In any case; the tender age rule mandatorily applies. It prohibits the separation of a child below seven years of age from the mother. The exception to this rule is when the court finds compelling reasons to order otherwise. In such situation; the court may award the custody to the other parent; or even to a third party as it deems fit under the circumstances. To deprive the mother of custody; the interested party must clearly establish that the mother’s moral lapses have adverse effects on the welfare of the child or have distracted her from exercising proper parental care. Sexual preference or moral laxity alone on the part of the mother does not prove parental neglect or incompetence. Equally applicable is the principle of “best interests of the child.” It refers to the totality of the circumstances and conditions that are most congenial to the survival; protection; and feelings of security of the child. The circumstances should be encouraging to the child’s physical; psychological; and emotional development. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child mandates that the best interests of the child be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children.