A Father’s Step-by-Step Guide to Understanding Child Access Rights in 2021
Welcome to fathers who want to know about child access rights
We have written this guide, as many fathers ask during the mediation process what their rights are as a parent. Some fathers may not have been added to their child’s birth certificate and as a result they do not have parental responsibility, which restricts their ability to make decisions as a parent. Many fathers who come to mediation often feel very vulnerable, but at the same time don’t want to take the mother of their child to court. Mediation is often seen by many as a better solution, as it is voluntary and the discussions are legally privileged. This means that what is said in the mediation room stays in the mediation room and cannot be used at a later date in a court hearing. This allows for full and frank discussions, which can be helpful.
As a father, this guide is aimed at helping you understand the law and what your rights are. The law is really complicated and many fathers that come to mediation are totally overwhelmed by the situation they are facing, as generally so many things are happening at the same time. In addition to this, the law seems like an impossible labyrinth with family members and friends often giving so many different opinions of what to do. In mediation, mediators won’t tell you what to do, but will present information and a number of options from which you can choose. It is hoped that by reading this guide you will have a better understanding of your rights as a father and be able to plan ahead for you and your family.
I sincerely wish you all the best and hope this guide helps you.
Stuart Hanson FMCA JP
Managing Partner & Family Mediator
Ok, so you want to understand your rights as a father
When the family unit breaks down, this can be a very difficult time for all involved. You and your ex-partner will have to come to agreements as to how life will continue post-separation and, where children are involved, this includes decisions on child arrangements. A question often asked by fathers in mediation, trying to resolve such conflicts, is what rights they have in relation to their children. Can the mother prevent contact? How much contact is the father entitled to? Does the father have a right to be involved in decision-making regarding their child?
Access to your child is dependent on whether or not you have Parental Responsibility. This involves you providing your child with a home and looking after them. Additionally, it gives you a right to be involved in decisions regarding the child’s education, health, name changes or residence.
By having parental responsibility over a child, you have a legal right to be involved in all major decisions that impact upon that child’s life. Whilst this does not include routine decisions affecting day-to-day life, as their father (with parental responsibility) you are entitled to have your say even when your child is no longer living in your care.
All mothers automatically have parental responsibility, but father’s may not. This guide will provide key information as to how much access to your child you are entitled to and how to go about gaining parental responsibility if you do not have it.
Tell me what is parental responsibility? Do I have it as a father?
Parental responsibility is given to both the mother and the father if they were married when the child was born. You can often hear lawyers, magistrates and District Judges referring to it as simply PR. However, if the mother and the father were unmarried, then only the mother has automatic parental responsibility. Where relationships break down and there are children involved, you must establish whether or not you have parental responsibility. A very simplistic and quick way of answering the question of PR is, “Are you on the birth certificate?”. If not, there is a strong chance that you don’t have Parental Responsibility; however, as we said this is a very simplistic way of looking at it and we encourage you to read the guide in full and also get legal advice if necessary.
I was not married to the mother when my child was born. What can I do?
If you and your ex-partner were not married when your child was born, then you will not have automatic parental responsibility. However, this does not mean you cannot have parental responsibility. There are six ways in which parental responsibility can be gained where this situation arises:
Registering your name on your child’s birth certificate
If your child was born on or after 1 December 2003 and your name was registered on your child’s birth certificate, you will have parental responsibility. You should check this in the first instance as this will confer parental responsibility even where you and your ex-partner were not married.
If the birth was registered before 1 December 2003, and you and the mother were unmarried, then you will not have parental responsibility. You can, however, re-register. Re-registration is a legal process that results in parental responsibility. You can get support with this through mediation, Support Through Court or through a solicitor. Often, you can get a free half hour consultation with a solicitor who can assist you in understanding your legal rights and the appropriate next steps.
Parental Responsibility Agreement (PRA)
Where the child was born pre 1 December 2003 and you are already registered on the birth certificate, or the mother does not consent to re-registration, you can, with the mother’s consent, gain parental responsibility through a Parental Responsibility Agreement.
To do this, both parents must complete a PRA1 form. This form must be signed by both parents and formally witnessed by a judicial officer or clerk. Once complete, you must submit two copies to the Central Family Court (Principal Registry of the Family Division.
Again, you can get support in completing and submitting this form either from a solicitor or a legal charity, such as Support Through Court. This is a charity consisting of numerous volunteers who have knowledge and understanding of the court process and the forms involved. They can support you in completing forms such as the PRA1. However, please know that as they are volunteers and not lawyers, they will not be able to advise you. But they can provide support in filling out the form, especially where you struggle to write things down, and also emotional support.
Parental Responsibility Order (PRO)
If a mother does not consent to either your registration on the birth certificate or a PRA, you can seek Parental Responsibility by applying for a PRO.
Where there are no continuing legal proceedings, you can do this by completing a C1 form. If there are legal proceedings involving your child, you must complete a C2 form and submit this to the court where those proceedings are taking place.
A judge, upon considering whether to grant the PMO, will take into account:
- Your connection/attachment to your child.
- Your reasons for applying for the PMO.
If you have a Residence Order in your favour (granted before 22 April 2014), then you automatically gained Parental Responsibility upon being granted that order.
Child Arrangements Order (CAO)
If your child lives with you by way of a CAO, then you will automatically have parental responsibility.
If you subsequently marry the mother of your child then you will gain parental responsibility.
So, what if I am in a same sex relationship?
If you and your partner were married or had a civil partnership when your child was born, then you will have parental responsibility for the child.
If you are not civil partners or married, then the second parent can gain parental responsibility through either:
- Making an application for parental responsibility (C1 form); or
- Marrying or gaining a civil partnership with the other parent and then signing a parental responsibility agreement.
I have parental responsibility. What next?
Making decisions post-separation can be very difficult and one parent may wish to restrict the other parent’s parental responsibility. Many fathers in mediation say that they feel that they have been cut out of decision making and that they don’t have any input and their voice is no longer heard when it comes to making important decision in their child’s life, such as health and education. In any event, you should always attempt to engage in mediation to resolve any disagreements and achieve positive compromises. Many parents find that the mediation is much quicker than waiting to go through the family courts. Where mediation is successful, amicable agreements regarding child arrangements can be achieved without necessarily having to go to court.
If mediation is unsuccessful and you are unhappy with a decision regarding your child or are unable to make an amicable agreement with your ex-partner, you can apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order (SIO) or Prohibited Steps Order (PSO). This creates a legally binding agreement between yourself and the mother to implement that decision in your child’s best interest. The SIO should be used for disagreements regarding a parental decision. The PSO should be used when you wish to prevent your ex-partner from doing something in relation to your child to which you disagree.
There are court fees associated with these orders (£215), though you may be able to get help with this.
What is important to remember is that your child’s voice and welfare is the most important factor. As your child gets older, it may be the case that they make decisions for themselves. The court will always take your child’s best interests into account. If your child or children are older, you may wish to consider child consultation with a specially trained mediator, so that the voice of your children can be heard clearly during the mediation process. Both parents have to agree for a child consultation to take place.
Frequently Asked Questions
As a father, do I need a court order to protect my contact with my child?
This very much depends on your current situation and the past history. There is the no order principle in court, which means an order will only be put in place if it is absolutely necessary and is in the interests of the child or children.
Why do I have to do a MIAM before submitting my C100 to court?
The courts require the person making the application to court to attend a MIAM, which stands for Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting, unless an exemption applies. The exemptions can be found on the Family Mediation Council website.
What happens if I am not on the birth certificate of my child?
In most cases this means you do not have parental responsibility. You may wish to go to mediation to discuss adding your name to your child’s birth certificate with your ex-partner.
Can mediation help me see my child?
Discussions with your ex-partner in mediation may result in formulating a child arrangements plan; however, this is dependent on how well everyone works together in mediation.
It is hoped that this guide has given you a better understanding to your rights as a father and that you can move forward to finding a solution to seeing your child or children. Mediators are trained to understand these issues and therefore you can openly discuss these matters in your initial meeting (this is called a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting – MIAM). In your initial meeting it will be just you and the mediator, so you can discuss matters confidentially. DMS has links with a number of solicitors that support mediation and many of them have a free 30-minute consultation, during which you could discuss your rights as a father. Other organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and Support Through Court may also be able to support you if you are making an application.
Sadly, too many people who divorce or separate do not consider family mediation and go to a family lawyer straightaway. You might want to talk with an accredited mediator to see if mediation could assist you, instead of expensive and lengthy legal action. By using family mediation there is the chance that you could save a lot of money by shortening the process, instead of going to court.
We are an award-winning firm with highly experienced family mediators accredited by the Family Mediation Council.
The mediation process starts with a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM), which is priced at £120 (including VAT). This is a meeting you attend alone with a mediator and talk in confidence about your situation. The cost per hour per person always remains the same if your case progresses to mediation.
The feedback from our clients has been incredibly positive. We are confident that family mediation will be an excellent starting point to hopefully finding an answer to your problems.
The information we have put together in this guide is only for general guidance. If you think you need legal advice, we suggest that you get in touch with a family solicitor.
Direct Mediation Services is a trading name for The Intelligent Solutions Group Ltd and we have tried to ensure that the information presented is accurate. However, please remember that we cannot accept liability for any loss, damage or inconvenience resulting as a consequence of any use of or the inability to use any information here. We always do our best to provide the very best information available, but we cannot promise that the information we have written will be free from errors. We are also not responsible for any claims brought by third parties coming from your use of information found on our website.
Please note that Direct Mediation Services takes no responsibility for the content of websites it lists. In addition, please understand that by listing a link it does not mean that we endorse the service offered. Direct Mediation Services does not have control over the linked pages being available.
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