How long does a father have to be absent to lose his rights in England and Wales?

Nov 25, 2022 | News

Child refusing visitation

Absent father’s rights UK

There are many circumstances and reasons a father may be absent from his child’s life. If you are concerned about the amount of time, you have been absent or any other issues regarding this question, you can always discuss it with our mediation service. We can provide you with information about your rights and options moving forward.

Parental responsibility and access

Parents have a joint responsibility to care for their child, although a mother is responsible for her child from birth. The father, depending on the status of the relationship may or may not have the same rights, which is governed by the birth date of the child and if the parents were married or living in a civil partnership. Under law, in England and Wales most fathers would be recognised as having parental responsibility.

Let’s meet John & Sara

John and Sara first came to mediation after contact had completely broken down between them and it seemed irrevocable. John had been absent from his children and Sara was refusing his requests to visit them. John was about to make an application to the court regarding his visitation rights – legally known as child arrangements. He was advised by his solicitor that the mediation route would be a much better option and less costly.

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child refusing contact

Case study

John and Sara have two children aged 11 and 12. John became depressed after the breakdown of his marriage, lost his job and his mental health deteriorated. Unable to face his children feeling this way, he decided they would be better off without him.

After a long period of time John was able to get back on his feet. He hadn’t seen his children for almost a year during the separation and wanted to resume contact. He was worried that his children would no longer want to see him, and Sara was angry and hurt that he had disappeared from their children’s lives, when they needed him most. The children were playing up in school and at home and Sara was at breaking point and wanted to block his visitation rights – the children spending time with John.

John visited Direct Mediation Services’s website to find a way forward, as he knew that applying to the courts would be time consuming and costly. Sara agreed to attend a first meeting on her own with the mediator and explained her concerns.

John and Sara’s first joint meeting took place in separate virtual rooms, as emotions were still high, but with the help of the mediator, communication improved and an agenda was agreed. The mediator explained the importance of both parents being present in their children’s lives and how parental conflict affects children.

In the next session a couple of weeks later, Sara was able to see that John had recovered from his depression. Both parents agreed that they would like to have Child Inclusive Mediation and asked for the mediator to get in touch with the children to seek their permission.

With the voices the children heard, John and Sara were able to agree a parenting plan. They were also able to avoid further court expenses and resume a relationship in the best interests of their children.

Know more about what rights do fathers have in our blog.

child inclusive mediation

This article applies to children living within the jurisdiction of England and Wales. The definition of Parental responsibility can be found in Section 3(1) of the Children Act 1989 as, “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.

How can mediation help to resolve these issues?

A family mediator will support you to find a solution that best works for you and your family and importantly, how you can make an agreement legally binding. Mediators can support you and your ex with establishing child arrangements. It is also the first step if you are thinking of asking the court to intervene, as an accredited family mediator needs to sign the court form in most circumstances.

    By completing this form you consent to Direct Mediation Services holding the information you provide us about you in accordance with our Privacy notice. By submitting your email address and telephone number to us you consent to us contacting you in order to enable us to deal with your query. Calls may be recorded for training and monitoring purposes.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How does a father access parent responsibility?

    A father can access parent responsibility; if he obtained a court order, granting parental responsibility, entered a parental responsibility agreement with the mother, or is registered on the child’s birth certificate as the father, provided the child was born after 1 December 2003. When a child is in the care of a father, who has parental responsibility, the father is required to make the daily decisions for the child’s wellbeing and to undertake joint decisions with anyone who has parental responsibility for the child.

    Can a father lose parental responsibility UK?

    After reviewing the situation, the courts will decide how involved the father should be in the child’s life. This will depend on previous behaviour and the relationship between the father and child. Every situation is different and the courts will determine what is in the child’s best interest. This usually only happens if a child is adopted, or the father's behaviour warrants the removal of parental responsibility. Each case is treated on its own merits, but if the father has been absent in the child's life for a long period, the courts may restrict access, or the father and child visits may be supervised, or time limited. This can often be the major bone of contention between the parents and where a mediation service can sometimes be of help.

    How long does a father have to be absent to lose rights in the UK?

    In fact, under present law, a father with parental responsibility can be absent from his child’s life and still retain his parental rights. It is highly unlikely that he will lose his parental responsibilities, unless there is a court order which prohibits this. There is no discrepancy between a father who regularly visits his child or never visits his child, his parental responsibility remains intact.

    Can an absent father still see his children without parental responsibility?

    No, on the contrary, mediation is likely to be much cheaper and quicker than going to court. We charge £130 per person for the MIAM meeting and £130 per person per hour for each mediation session. If you cannot afford this, you might qualify for Legal Aid which will pay for your sessions. Legal Aid is not available for court actions.

    Can I lose the right to see my child?

    This will depend on each individual circumstance, but it is rare that a father's visitation rights are removed. Mediation can often help both parents establish visitation rights / child arrangements without court proceedings.

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