The issue of father’s rights regularly hits the headlines and we certainly hear some very unfortunate tales of fathers who are denied access to see their children when parents divorce or separate.
In order to try and help a father in his efforts to see his children it helps first to understand the legal position.
Fathers and the law
The law holds the view that parents have responsibilities towards their children and that it is the child that has a right to have an on-going, meaningful relationship with both of their parents. That relationship will be upheld by a court, as long as it is safe and appropriate for that to happen.
Both parents have responsibilities towards their children. Responsibilities to meet their child’s needs in every way: emotionally, physically, psychologically and financially. It is a joint responsibility of both parents to ensure that all of a child’s needs are met so that their child grows up being given the best opportunity in life to thrive and meet their potential.
Do you have parental responsibility?
Some fathers automatically have legal responsibility for their child. This is known as parental responsibility. You will have parental responsibility for your child if you are or were married to the child’s mother, if you are named on the child’s birth certificate if the birth was registered after 1 December 2003, if you have entered into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother or if you have been granted parental responsibility by the court in an order. If you do not automatically have parental responsibility then you can enter into a written agreement with the child’s mother or seek a parental responsibility order or a child arrangement order from the court.
The law defines parental responsibility 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”.
But what does having parental responsibility involve?
It gives a parent responsibility for taking important decisions in the child’s life in relation to issues such as education, health and religion. It gives a parent responsibility in making day-to-day decisions, such as where the child can go and who with and what they might eat.
However, it is much more than that.
It involves having a duty to talk to each other as parents to agree what is in your child’s best interests, even if you separate and are no longer in a relationship.
It involves encouraging your child to have a good relationship with each parent, whether you have a good relationship with your ex-partner or not. This includes allowing your child to spend quality time with each of you, unless there is a safety issue why any child shouldn’t spend time with both parents.
It involves helping your child to understand that although you may no longer live together a as couple of be in a relationship, that you both love him or her and want them to have a loving and open relationship with both of you.
It involves showing respect towards each other as parents. This will help your child to feel that they can move between each relationship without fear or upset, without being questioned about where they have been and what they have done, and without blaming themselves when things go wrong.
It involves listening to what your child has to say, asking how they are feeling and taking into account the effect upon them of the breakdown of your relationship and their views about the time they spend living or having contact with the other parent.
Making arrangements to see your children
It is not always possible to agree, especially when emotions are running high in the breakdown of a relationship. If you cannot agree about when you will see your child or how often, then consider mediation or a collaborative approach to sitting down with other people helping you to try and agree a way forward. You are both more likely to be happy with any agreement you have reached between the two of you than with a Judge imposing an order on you, and your child, which none of you may be happy with.
If you cannot reach an agreement and have to go to court to ask a Judge to decide, remember that the court’s will consider what is in your child’s best interests, not necessarily what either of you as parents want. More often than not, for a child to maintain a good, close and loving relationship with both of you is in his or her best interests and a court will make orders to ensure that happens.
So, the right of the father to see his children is actually his right to promote that his children should see him and for the child’s mother to promote that irrespective of her own feelings towards him. It is the child’s right to see their father and have an ongoing relationship with the parent that they don’t live with every day and to be encouraged by the parent they live with to see the other parent and enjoy time with them.
Coming to an agreement can sometimes be difficult and unfortunately some cases do go to court. If this is the case you will need sound legal advice to prepare and present your case.
For advice on seeing your children contact Woolley & Co on 0800 3213832.