Father’s Rights to See Child (UK)

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When circumstances arise regarding separating parents, fathers are often misled to believe that they have less rights than the child’s mother to see their child. It should be noted that these ‘rights’ are not automatic and can be taken away from parents by the court if they are not guarding the child’s welfare and best interests.

Though, it is untrue that father’s do not have rights. Instead, the law holds that a child should have a meaningful and valuable relationship with both of their parents; thus, there is equal parental responsibility. Therefore, it is vital that a father can still spend time with the child following the separation or divorce.

Of course, in some circumstances, it is necessary to stop a father’s access to the child. These important decisions are down to the court but will only be made if it is deemed imperative.


Father’s rights to see child (UK)- Unmarried fathers

Although both parents are expected to guard the welfare of their child, the family law governing parental rights can differ depending on whether a father is married, unmarried, or named on the child’s birth certificate.

When parents are married, they have equal custody of the child. As a result of this, they can both make important decisions, such as those regarding education or health. 

Contrastingly, unmarried fathers that are not named on a birth certificate do not automatically have parental responsibility towards their child.  As a result of this, the child’s mother will not need to seek their permission when making important decisions. However, if they are named on the birth certificate, they will have the same legal rights as the child’s mother. 

If a father wants to seek custody of their child and they are not married to the mother or named on the birth certificate, they will have to go to court. This process is explained later in the article.


Do stepfathers have rights see their stepchild?


It can be acknowledged that stepparents can build great bonds with their stepchildren. However, because they would not be named on the birth certificate, a stepparent lacks any parental rights to a child.

 Similarly to when a father is not married to the child’s mother or named on the birth certificate, a stepfather can go to court to seek rights. 

Depending on the situation, the stepfather could choose to apply for a

Parental Responsibility Order, a Child Arrangements Order (which states that the child will live with their stepfather), or an Adoption Order. These options are not an exhaustive list of Orders which can be obtained through the Family Courts.


Court Orders which a father can seek


If a father does not have legal rights towards their child, they can apply to the courts for various orders. 

Prior to doing this and seeking contact with their child, the father will have to prove parental responsibility. This can be done so via the child’s birth certificate or through a letter from the child’s parent. 

If a father does not have either of these documents, or is not named on the birth certificate, they can apply for a Parental Responsibility Order. Even in matters where the parents have come to an informal agreement on responsibility, it can be helpful to seek a parental responsibility order so that the agreement is legally enforceable. 

Once parental responsibility has been obtained, a father could make an application to the court for a Specific Issue Order. This order may be useful if there are ongoing disputes regarding healthcare or education etc. 

Next, a Child Arrangement Order may be effective when deciding which residence the child will live in. When the parents are married, a marriage or birth certificate can be useful when considering the child’s best interests and showing that the child had a relationship with the father. For this order, you do not need to already have a Parental Responsibility Order although it can be helpful to apply for this concurrently.


Can contact between the father and child be stopped without a Court Order?


When a child lives with their mother, the mother cannot stop contact with the child’s father, without a court order. This is because the child’s mother and father have equal parental rights. (Unless they are unnamed on the birth certificate or stepparents). 

However, when contact with their father would affect the child’s welfare, a mother can restrict access. The circumstances which may satisfy this could include domestic violence, substance abuse or criminal activity. If a mother cited a refusal to pay child support or unreliable contact as a reason to stop contact the court would be likely to disagree. 

If the child’s mother has stopped contact when there is a court order regarding contact in place, the father can apply for an Enforcement Order. This order will enforce the order which is already in place and may include penalties.


Reasons a Court Order to stop contact may be granted

As mentioned above, a court order can be granted to legally stop a parent’s access to their child if a parent is involved in criminal activity, is abusing substances, is abusive or involved in other inappropriate behaviours which would affect the welfare of the child. 

If a parent believes that the other parent presents an immediate danger to the child’s welfare, they can apply for an emergency ‘without notice’ order.  This immediately stops contact with the parent, and their presence is not required for the order to be granted. If this order is granted, a hearing will be arranged for a few days later so the allegations can be argued and defended. 

Furthermore, a mother can seek an order which terminates a father’s parental rights though these orders will only be granted in unprecedented circumstances.


Can a child decide to stop contact with their father?  


Family law reforms took place in 2014 which highlighted that the court understands the importance of a child having a relationship with both of their parents. Therefore, if a child states that they do not want to see their father, the court believes that it is vital to talk to them, and their father, to understand the issue. Unless their reason involves a threat to their welfare, contact should not be terminated. 

In matters where there is a court order in place, it is important that parties adhere to the terms and contact should be heavily encouraged. Otherwise, the father could seek an enforcement order.


How can we help?


The team at Expert Family Law understand how difficult family law matters can be for the parties involved. 

Therefore, our service includes locating family lawyers whose expertise suit your individual case. For example, if you are a father seeking contact with your child, we will source a solicitor whose knowledge focuses on paternal rights. By doing so, we can ensure that you receive personalised legal advice which will benefit your case.

To find out more about how we can help you, or if you would like to find out more about a father’s rights to see child (UK), please contact us using the contact form at the top of the page.


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