How much contact am I entitled to with my child as a father?
This blog post will discuss your rights as a father to have contact with your child. The word “contact” has been used to replace “access”, but these words are often use interchangeably in day-to-day conversation. Similarly, the word “custody” has since been replaced by residence. For the purpose of this blog, we will use “access” and “residence”.
Another important term to note in relation to this question is parental responsibility. We have written before about parental responsibility and what it is, but in short it is “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities an authority, which by law, a parent of a child has to the child” (Children Act 1989).
Having parental responsibility means, amongst other things, that you will have the right to make decisions relating to your child, such as education or medical interventions. It will be that you have a core responsibility and obligation to provide care for your child and ensuring their welfare.
Parental responsibility is only automatically given to biological mothers, but this does not mean that fathers cannot have parental responsibility. As a father, you will have parental responsibility if you were married to the biological mother when your child was born or you were registered on your child’s birth certificate at birth as being the father. If neither of these apply, you can still get parental responsibility of your child through either a parental responsibility agreement (where the biological mother consents to you have parental responsibility), or through a parental responsibility order (where the Court will order that you have parental responsibility).
When applying to the Courts for a parental responsibility order, the Court will consider a variety of factors. A judge will consider as a number one priority your child’s best interests: is it in the child’s best interests to spend time with their father? As a general, it is agreed that it is in a child’s best interest to spend time with both parents. However, there can be issues such as safeguarding concerns that make this answer more nuance. In making their decision, a judge will also consider how much time you have spent with your child as a father previously, your relationship with your child, and your overall reasons for making the application.
Disputes around spending time with your child
It is the case that regardless of whether you have parental responsibility as a father, there may still be family related disputes that cause you to have less contact, or no contact at all, with your child. This often results in disputing parents coming to mediation or making applications through the Court for what is known as a Child Arrangements Order.
A common issue that arises in child arrangement disputes is thinking about what is a reasonable amount of contact that a father should have with their child. It can become confusing when you realise that there is no set amount of time that is reasonable for a father to spend time with their children. Some fathers may spend time with their children through a shared care arrangement, where there the child(ren) spend an equal amount of time with both mother and father. Some fathers may spend time with their children every other weekend, others once a month. It is very much dependent on individual circumstances and the subjective nature of your case.
As a father, you do not necessarily have individual rights to have contact with your child. But it is the case that your child has the right to have contact with you. If you have parental responsibility, then there will be a right for you and your child to spend time with each other. This gives fathers the opportunity to have an equal amount of contact with your child as the child’s mother does. This may confer the following rights:
- to spend time with your child on particular days and times;
- to spend the above amount of time without interference and for the full time that has been agreed;
- to be involved in particular activities with your child;
- to spend time with your child without the supervision of the other parent (to have unsupervised contact where it is safe to do so).
A Child Arrangements Order
Where parents are not able to agree on where a child is to live and/or how often a child spends time with either parent and for how long, then they may turn to the Courts for a child arrangements order. What is important to remember here is that parents should, as a minimum, attempt mediation before making an application to Court. In fact, it is a legal requirement to have attended a MIAM (save for exemptions) before making an application to the Court. You can book a MIAM here.
If you are unsuccessful at mediation, then you can make an application for a Child Arrangements Order using the C100 form. This is an order under the Children’s Act 1989. When making this application, you are in fact effectively making a joint application for both child arrangements order and a parental responsibility order. The Act provides that Courts should make a parental responsibility order for the father when making a child arrangements for their child to live with them. However, if the order relates to you spending time with your child, there is no automatic granting of a successful parental responsibility order. The Courts will often confer parental responsibility in these circumstances however, especially where there are no safeguarding concerns relating to your child’s welfare.
It is important whenever making an application relating to your children, you give a lot of consideration to your child’s life and best interests. For example, you should think about your child’s day to day life and routine and ensure that your application does not cause disruption to their life.
Arrangements for your children can be flexible, particularly at mediation. Parents who have an amicable separation [link to amicable blog] may agree to have shared care, where your child resides with both parents. You may consider a variety of options such as alternating weeks, or weekends. It is important to remember that as parents you should aim to coparent flexibly.
What about fathers living abroad?
Sometimes after separation, parents may choose to move to another country. This can create difficulties in making child arrangements as it is more difficult to incorporate a regular arrangement into an order or an agreement. In these circumstances, indirect contact can be considered as a way forward – such as FaceTime calls, emails, letters etc. Again, all of the previously mentioned considerations around best interests will be considered. In terms of direct contact, an arrangement or agreement may consider different arrangements for term time and school holidays. In more amicable separations, parents may consider their child spend time with their parent living abroad for longer periods of time, so long as this is in the child’s best interests and does not impact negatively on their life or development. Remember, arrangements can be flexible and should be tailored to your child and your family.
What happens if my child says they do not want to spend time with me as a father?
This can be very difficult to hear as a father and can be a very emotional experience. As noted above, the Courts will take into account your child’s best interests. In doing so, the Court refer to what the Children Act terms as a “welfare checklist”. One thing on this list is a child’s wishes and feelings.
If your child is aged 12 or over, then it is highly likely that the Court will take their wishes and feelings into account. Sometimes, the Court will consider the views of a child under 12, but this is less common. What is important to know is that this is not a be all and end all, your child does not have a power in law to decide whether or not they should have a relationship with you. In these circumstances, it is the parents’ responsibility to consider why their child feels this way and what they could do to overcome this and move forward in a positive way where there is a good father-child relationship.
This can be assisted in some case by CAFCASS who will meet with your child and speak to them. CAFCASS will identify any concerns and will report their findings to the Court in the form of a Section 7 report. Section 7 cafcass report is useful to the Court in making decisions, but also for parents to understand where the issues are that need to be dealt with.
In any case, it is generally expected that mothers actively promote contact between their child and their father. The Courts can be concerned where this is not happening and there is potential that contact is not happening due to the influence of the mother. This is referred to as parental alienation and is seen as something that is not in the best interests of your child.
What should I do next?
The first step if you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this blog is speak to our friendly family mediation team. We can offer you an initial no obligation chat on the procedure and process for settling family disputes. We can also book you in for your initial mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) and support you through the mediation process to reach an agreement. You can do this by contacting our team on 0113 468 9593.
If mediation is unsuccessful, you may decide to make an application to Court. If you would like to speak to a solicitor, we have a list of mediation-friendly solicitors here. You can also get free support from volunteers at Support Through Court or Citizens Advice. If you would prefer private support, the Family Court Application Service offer procedural support – you can read more about them here.
Want to known more about family mediation?
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Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do I have a right to spend time with my child as a father?
You do not have an automatic right to this as a father, but your child does have a right to spend time with you as their father. This can sound strange, but it is because in family law focus is on the child’s best interest.
2. Do I have parental responsibility?
As a father you will have parental responsibility for your child if you were married to the biological mother when the child was born, or if you are registered as the father on the child’s birth certificate.
3. How do I go about getting contact with my child?
The first step is to try and resolve this matter with the mother directly. If you are unable to do this, then you should attempt mediation. Mediation can be really helpful in settling disputes and you can read more about this on our blog or by contacting our team. Where mediation is unsuccessful too, you may need to explore other means, such as Court.
4. How do I apply to Court to spend time with my child?
You will need to apply to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order. You can do this by completing the C100 application.
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