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Reaching agreement to see your children when you separate

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The law encourages co-parenting .

As a family lawyer I am often contacted by distressed parents who are unable to reach an agreement with their former partner as to the arrangements for their children. Clients often feel they have lost the ability to be an equal parent because they are no longer living in the same home as their children. Some parents who have the children living with them, start to believe they can make all the decisions and control the situation regardless of what the other parent says or wants.  

The law encourages co-parenting

The law has tried in many ways over the years to deal with this situation and remind parents that even though they are separated they both jointly remain the parents of the children and should co-parent. The court will presume, unless it is shown to be unsafe for the child, that involvement of both parents in a child’s life will benefit their welfare long term. The court’s paramount consideration in any matter relating to a child will be the child’s welfare now and in the future.

Who has parental responsibility for your child?

Since December 2004 all fathers automatically have parental responsibility, in addition to the mother, so long as they are married or named on the child’s birth certificate. Parental responsibility means the legal rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority a parent has for the child and the child’s property. If you don’t have parental responsibility under these rules you can acquire parental responsibility by marrying the child’s mother, by both signing a parental responsibility agreement, or by order of the court. 

If you have parental responsibility you are automatically entitled to be involved in any important decisions relating to your child’s upbringing. This does not mean that you get to decide what they do on a day-to-day basis when they are with the other parent (or vice versa), but that you are automatically entitled to be involved in decisions relating to important matters such as education, medical care, religion and name changes. You are equally entitled to discuss your child’s welfare with their school and/or GP with, our without, the other parent’s express agreement.

Reaching agreement to see your children

If your former partner is not allowing you to be involved in decisions relating to your child’s upbringing or not allowing you to spend time with your child then you can take action to resolve this. The best way is always to try to communicate with the other parent to see if you can reach an agreement. As parents you two know better than anyone what is best for your child. However, if communication has broken down and an agreement cannot be reached then a Resolution accredited lawyer may be able to assist. All lawyers, like those at Woolley & Co, who are accredited members of Resolution, adhere to a code of practice to deal with matters in a non-confrontational and non-adversarial way. This means that they will assist you to negotiate an agreement fairly and amicably whenever possible. It is often possible to reach an agreement via correspondence and this is the best way to resolve matters so you get to spend time with your child quickly.

Unfortunately, agreement is not always possible and the next steps would be to consider mediation – where both you and your former partner sit down together with an independent mediator to discuss matters and see what agreement can be reached and if these fails court proceedings to ask a judge to make a decision.

If since separation you have been struggling to continue being an active parent due to your former partner excluding you then seek help and advice early for the benefit and welfare of your children.

Abby Smith
Divorce & Family Lawyer, St Neots

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