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Paternity Rights & stopping father’s access to child

Questions asked by many parents is “can a mother stop a father from seeing a child in the UK?”, "what rights does a father have?" and “ how long does a father have to be absent to lose rights in the UK?”

Father’s right to see a child

A father has the same rights as a mother and contact cannot be legally stopped unless there are concerns that further contact could affect the welfare of a child. These concerns may be raised due to issues of criminal offences, drug or alcohol abuse, domestic abuse or any other inappropriate behaviour which places the child at risk.

Unfortunately, it is quite common for mothers to stop a father’s access to a child merely by refusing to let them see them. However, fathers do not often recognise that they have the same rights as mothers. This means in terms of child contact that they are entitled to have access to the child as much as the mother is.

In other words, a mother should not stop a father who has parental responsibility from accessing their child unless they have a valid reason to do so and one which affects the welfare of the child as explained above.  However, practically speaking, if the mother has day to day care of the child, she can prevent access or contact.

What are valid reasons to stop a father’s access to a child?

Under English law the only valid reason to withhold contact is if there is a risk of physical or psychological harm to the child. Therefore, if a father is late to the ordered contact or fails to pay child maintenance are no valid reasons to stop a father seeing child.

Your ex-partner cannot legally stop you from having contact to your child unless continued contact will be of detriment to your child’s welfare, but you may have to go to court to ensure the contact happens.

Access to your child can be legally prevented by a court order, if there are safety and welfare concerns such as:

  • criminal activity
  • domestic abuse
  • drug/alcohol misuse
  • any other inappropriate behaviour that puts your child at risk

Reasons that may not be valid for denying a fathers right to see a child include:

  • A parent refuses to pay child support.
  • A parent is sometimes late picking up or dropping off the children
  • A parent does not see the children regularly, even though an agreement or court decision says that this parent will see the children regularly.

Legal access to children is not an actual ‘right’. Parental responsibility (PR) gives you some legal rights and responsibilities, but there is no automatic right to ‘contact’. The law is entirely centred on the child’s welfare and thus decisions to let you have contact are made on the basis that it will improve your child’s quality of life, not because it will improve your quality of life as a parent.

In the absence of any safeguarding concerns, the court actively encourages a relationship between the child and both parents. If you cannot achieve this and things get difficult, Blanchards Law is here to help you. Our experienced family team can facilitate all forms of dispute resolution processes to help draw up agreed Child Arrangement Orders & Agreements.

Stopping contact with a child when there is no court order

Where there is a child arrangement or child contact order in place a parent may only stop child contact if there is a risk that continuing this arrangement will affect the welfare of a child.

If contact with a child is stopped then you can apply to the court to enforce the order in place. An enforcement order is an order made by the court to ensure the parent in breach of the court order complies with an order. The Order will generally be enforced unless the other parent can show that they have a “reasonable excuse” for not abiding by the order.

An enforcement order can be secured if a parent to the Order is breaking the terms i.e committing a child arrangement order breach. If the court is of the view that there is no good reason for a breach of court order then an enforcement order can be made which can be backed with penalties, such as a fine or doing a community service order.

In some situations, a parent may also apply to the court for an order without the other parent being there, if they believe they present an immediate danger to the child. This is known as an emergency ’without notice’ order.

If the court is persuaded to make a ‘without notice’ order, there will always be a second hearing a few days later so both parents can attend and defend the allegations made and present their own views to the court.

Spending time with your child will be arranged if the court believes that it will improve your child’s welfare. In 2014, the government introduced a presumption that the continued involvement of both parents in a child’s life will best promote that child’s welfare. So, in most situations, unless it can be proven that you will pose a risk to, or harm, your child, you will usually be granted some kind of contact. However, in cases of domestic abuse, the courts can consider whether there is a risk of harm to the other party if contact is facilitated. The court will also consider a whole host of other factors, such as motivation and commitment, before making a final determination.

If you do not have PR, and you do not have a voluntary out-of-court agreement about contact, you can still apply to the court for a child arrangements order. If the court makes an order for your child to spend time with you/live with you it should also consider whether to make a PR order at the same time, if you don’t already have it.

Even if you do have an out-of-court agreement, you should still consider applying for PR whether by way of agreement (known as a parental responsibility agreement) or by court application.

If you have an informal agreement, or no agreement, and your ex-partner decides to deny you access to your child, you may need to take a number of actions, including:

  • discussing the problem and trying to resolve it between yourselves without confrontation
  • consulting a solicitor for advice, who can send a legal letter setting out your proposals
  • referring the issue to a local family mediator for alternative dispute resolution
  • applying to court for a child arrangements order (interim decisions may be needed before the court has full information to make a final order, so be prepared for several court attendances throughout the process)

If you already have a court order or other legally binding agreement in place regarding the arrangements for your child, and your partner is breaching it, you can:

  • discuss the problem face-to-face, or communicate through a mutual contact) to reach a solution without involving the court and causing further conflict
  • write to your partner via your solicitors, setting out some proposals for a resolution to the situation
  • apply to the court for the order to be enforced. The court could fine, imprison or enforce the order (which can include penalties) on your ex-partner

What happens if my child does not want any contact with the other parent?

In certain circumstances a child may not want to have any contact with the other parent. Unless this is due to a reason which could affect their welfare, contact should be encouraged. You could talk to your child or directly to the other parent to ascertain the reason for refusing contact.

Ultimately, if contact is ordered by the court, it must be adhered to. Therefore, you as a parent must try and ensure contact continues to avoid the other parent from taking steps to enforce an existing court order.

Instead of stopping child contact can I vary the existing order in place?

Yes, an order can be varied by application to the court if the circumstances have changed since when the initial arrangement was ordered. Our child specialists can assist you in varying any terms of an order and are at hand should you require a consultation.

If your child contact has been stopped and you want to secure legal advice and assistance, then consult with our child law specialists today.  Equally if you are wanting to stop child contact you should seek early advice before doing so to ensure your steps are protected by the benefit of legal advice.

Our family law specialists have helped hundreds of parents on both sides of fence and are always available to advise and assist. Whether it be Child Arrangement Orders & Agreements or anything else, please call us on 0333 344 6302 or email us at info@blanchardslaw.co.uk

If you are a father and your ex-partner is preventing you from access to your child, or not acknowledging your paternity rights then our child specialists can assist you in arranging contact arrangements by way of Child Arrangement Orders & Agreements. Please call us on 0333 344 6302 or email us at info@blanchardslaw.co.uk to understand your rights as a father.

Removal of Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility lasts until a child reaches the age of 18 or marries between the ages of 16 and 18. In reality, it gives parents the responsibility to make important decisions about the child. For example, the child’s name, medical treatment and which school the child should go to. It also enables a father to receive certain information such as school reports and copies of medical records.

What rights do absent parents have if they come back into a child’s life after several years’ away?

It is a common misunderstanding that once a parent (often a father) has left the family unit, they give up all rights and influence on how the children are then raised. That is not true, and even if a parent is absent for a prolonged period, they still have a right to influence how the children are raised. If the parent’s name is on the birth certificate, then they are deemed to have Parental Responsibility under the Children’s Act 1989.

In short this means that whether a parent is absent for six months or six years, the rights of both the mother (through Parental Responsibility) and the father do not change. In many cases, contact is the main issue and the most contentious one, but with a little bit of help from our family law experts at Blanchards Law, resolutions can be achieved. The welfare of the child must be the number one priority throughout the process, regardless of how long the absentee parent has been away. Both the courts and any legal representatives will always ensure that their interests are put first.

Can a father lose his right to see a child or parental responsibility?

‘Yes’, it is possible to lose a father’s right to see a child. However, this is only in very rare circumstances. A mother can apply to court for an order to terminate a father’s parental responsibility and remove his paternity rights. However, it is only granted in a small number of cases where circumstances are exceptional. A father will not lose his parental responsibility/ paternity rights for a child where he has committed adultery or is in prison.

When parental responsibility will not be removed from the father

The court’s paramount concern when deciding whether a father should lose parental responsibility/ paternity rights for his child is the child’s welfare. Parental responsibility will not be terminated in any of the following circumstances:

  • Where a child does not want contact.
  • Where a father will not see the child.
  • Where a father will not pay child maintenance.
  • Where a father will not play any part in a child’s life or has ‘disappeared’.

Can we help you? Please call us on 0333 344 6302 or email us at info@blanchardslaw.co.uk

Stories & case studies to help you

Please read our blogs on our children work and practice. Like you, many client have come to us because the blogs are informative and designed to help you understand what you can do to resolve your situation.

Contact us on 0333 344 6302 for a no-obligation call