A common question I get asked during the divorce process from worried dads is: what rights do I have as a father?
The first thing to say in response to this is that the law is focused on, and based around, the needs and rights of the children, not those of the parents. It is what is best for the children. Often that will be to ensure a healthy, supportive relationship is maintained with both mum and dad. In broad terms, it is considered to be their right to have a relationship with both parents.
For a couple separating or going through divorce, the arrangements for the care of the children are often a bone of contention. Our advice is always to try and reach agreement as a couple, without involving the law or family lawyers, if you possibly can.
Unfortunately, as experts in divorce and family law we see all too many cases where parents cannot agree on the arrangements for the care of their children and we speak to many fathers who are, at least as they see it, being denied their rights to see their children.
It is sometimes suggested that fathers do not really have any rights. There is a feeling that there’s not enough help for dads who are desperate to play a greater role in their children’s life but are being prevented from doing so.
If you would like to play a greater role in the care of your children and you cannot reach an agreement with your ex there are steps you can take. Sometimes a carefully worded letter from a family lawyer, setting out your proposals will help your ex see your point of view. If this doesn’t work there is always mediation, a process of sitting down with a neutral third party to discuss the situation and for each party to make their case in the hope that by talking openly about the situation you can reach a mutually agreeable solution.
If negotiating in this way doesn’t work a dad can make an application to the Courts for a child arrangements order which sets out where the child will live and when they will spend time with the other parent. It’s not a forgone conclusion that fathers are denied the ability to spend time with their children. There are regularly cases where arrangements are changed quite dramatically meaning that children spend more time with dad or even live most of the week with their father. Of course, this only happens if it’s in the best interest of the child and this has to be proven.
So, the fundamental answer to the question is that the rights sit with the children, not with the parents. However, it is considered to be their right to have a relationship with both parents. The courts can and do take steps to make sure the child’s welfare is taken care of. They can even send a parent to prison if they wilfully and repeatedly ignore an order of the court.
This is a sensitive and specialist area of family law – it’s always best to get advice maybe even before you approach your ex, so that you put yourself in the best possible position to get the right solution for yourself and your children.
Woolley & Co, family law solicitors