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How much access is a father entitled to?
Although the title of this article refers to child custody and access, these terms have been used to make child arrangement issues more understandable for the reader, but these terms were in fact replaced by the resident and contact.
Custody and access both referred to children in a separation or divorce, and both were often confused. Custody (replaced by residence) referred to who makes the decisions about the child, for example in terms of school, medical and dental needs and general well-being and access referred to how often each parent saw the child. But the most significant change under the Children and Families Act 2014 which amended many parts of the children’s Act 1989, was to replace residence and contact orders under section 8 of the 1989 Act with child arrangements orders.
For child arrangements, it is often the case that both parents want to keep the issues out of court to save stress and legal expenses, which means that many child arrangements are made outside of the courts. However, if they go to court, the court will ultimately decide what happens based on how the circumstances that are presented.
Purpose of the UK Law
The UK law holds that married parents have joint parental responsibility; if parents are not married, only the mother has parental responsibility. In that case, unmarried fathers can acquire parental responsibility by being registered as the father on the child’s birth certificate with the consent of the mother; by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother; by applying to the court for a parental responsibility order; by being appointed a Guardian either by the mother or by the court although in these cases the father will assume parental responsibility only on the mother’s death; by obtaining a child arrangement order from the court or by marrying the mother.
Parental responsibility is defined by the Children Act 1989 as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority, which by law, a parent of a child has to the child’.
Parents are required to meet the child’s needs in every way: emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially. This is to try to ensure that a child receives enough support to grow up, thrive, and meet their full potential.
However, the main issues that arise in court are matters relating to child arrangements. Mothers often ask, what is reasonable contact for fathers? Uk law would usually require that responsible fathers should be at very reasonable contact to their children but with no set guidelines to what that specifically means. Each case is decided on its own merits. There are instances where some fathers see their children every day, others just once a month, others even less than that.
Parental responsibility orders
if the parties cannot come to an agreement, then the court will make an order. If the father without parental responsibility wants to share parental responsibility with the mother, and she is not willing to agree to this, the father can apply to the court for a parental responsibility order. The court will take into account the father’s degree of commitment to the child, the state of the father’s current relationship with the child, and the reasons for making the application.
What are the father’s visitation rights?
Visitation rights for a parent, in this case, a father, allow the biological father of the child the right to spend time with the child. Visitation rights are given to the parent that does not receive full custody of the child.
It is the underlying right of every child to have access to both parents, including the biological father. Fathers’ visitation rights give fathers the chance to spend the same amount of time with the child as the mother does.
- The father’s visitation rights include the following:
- The right to visit the child at a designated time
- The right to enjoy activities with the child
- The right to be free from the other parent’s control during the visitation
- The right to spend the entire allotted time with the child without any interference
Child arrangements order
The children’s act 1989 provides that when the court makes a child arrangement order naming the father’s person with whom the child is to live, then it must also make a parental responsibility order in favor of the father if he does not already have parental responsibility. If the court makes a child arrangements order naming the father as the person with whom the child should spend time or otherwise have contact, but not as a person with whom the child should live, then the court must decide whether it would be appropriate to make a parental responsibility order.
Fathers should do their very best to take the child’s schedule into account and work around it to avoid disruptions to his/her life.
In amicable separation, parents might agree to share residency responsibilities. The children live with each parent on alternate weeks, or some fathers may have weekend contact every week, and if weekend contacts every week are not possible, parents may often plan amongst themselves.
Some fathers may be given the right to see their children every day, while others might only be allowed to see them once a month, at most.
In any case, our London-based family lawyers will be able to weigh up the reality of your situation and provide you with the right advice and options available regarding access to your child after a divorce.
What is reasonable access or using the new term “contact” for fathers living abroad?
After a divorce has taken place, the father may have moved on to live in another country. If this has happened, and fathers’ access (contact), to his child or children, may be restricted. If a father has gone to work abroad, he cannot maintain regular weekend contact with the child. It is, reasonable to suggest in this case that a father who lives abroad should have regular direct contact with the child through telephone calls, Skype, emails, video calls. However, such arrangements would need to work around the life of the child.
If this situation occurs, it is down to the father to find the appropriate time to meet with the child, preferably during school holidays Which would allow quality time to be spent with the child.
If the child’s mother and father on good terms, the father can also ask the mother to bring or allow the child to visit him and his country of residence, during school holidays. However, clear information must be shared with the father about the daily routine of the child, as this is considered to be necessary for the child’s well-being.
What if the child doesn’t want the access (contact) agreed with the father?
UK law always focuses on the best interests of a child when a divorce or separation takes place. If a child has reached an age whereby the court considers it reasonable that their view may be taken into account, usually at about the age of 12, then their views would be considered by the UK courts. This doesn’t mean that the child has the legal power to decide if or not they should have a relationship with their father. However, if a child doesn’t want to see his or her father, the parents should try and understand and resolve this.
If this takes place, it is essential to speak with the child as this alone could be enough to identify any concerns. Understanding the reasons behind why the child may not want to have contact with the father, for example, finding out if the child is has experienced anything that they did not enjoy during the last visit with the father.
Moreover, having contact with the child’s father should be promoted by the mother. In many cases, fathers need to establish whether the refusal of a child to see them is their own wishes or whether it is directly influenced by the child’s mother. If this is the case, it could result in parental alienation.
What happens if an agreement for reasonable access (contact) cannot be reached?
If you cannot agree on a situation that accommodates reasonable contact for a child’s father, you may be thinking about talking to some legal professionals. Our team of expert family lawyers will be happy to discuss your personal case with you and provide you with the most up-to-date advice and guidance on laws surrounding the access and how are you can obtain your child. We can also act as mediators between you and the child’s mother with the main aim of finding an amicable solution to the situation. Should this not work, you may consider court proceedings. We have over 35 years of experience dealing with UK family law cases and have advised countless fathers to gain reasonable access across a huge variety of different situations.
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