Can I still see my children on Father's Day? - Kristie Rhodes of WSP Solicitors
With more than 2.9 million separated families in the UK in 2019, it is unsurprising that many people seek legal advice about spending time with their child on special occasions throughout the year such as Father's Day.
This important date is fast approaching (June 21) and fathers may find that, this year in particular, they have more questions about contact than ever before due to the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing government restrictions.
What are a father's rights to see his child?
This is a very common question asked by worried fathers when first seeking legal advice following a separation. The basic answer to this question is that it is the right of the child to have an ongoing relationship with both parents so long as it is safe and in their best interests to do so.
It is firstly important to establish whether you have parental responsibility for a child. Mothers automatically have parental responsibility for a child from birth. Fathers usually have parental responsibility if they are married to the child's mother or they are named on the child's birth certificate. A father can apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order if necessary.
Having parental responsibility means that you have all the rights, duties, powers and responsibilities in relation to that child and should consult any other person who also has parental responsibility about the major decisions in the child's life, including decisions about schooling and medical treatment for example.
If you have parental responsibility for a child but do not live with them, it does not mean that you have a right to spend time with them. When parents are no longer living together, it is necessary to determine who the child will live with, when the other parent can see them and how responsibility for the child will be managed.
Can anyone stop you from seeing your child?
Sadly, we hear all too often how one parent has prevented the other parent from seeing their child. Contact should only be refused where there is a very good reason for doing so such as where the child is likely to be at risk of harm if contact were to take place.
A complete refusal to allow any contact is likely to result in an application being made to the court for a Child Arrangements Order. Instigating court proceedings should always be your last resort though if other attempts to resolve the issues voluntarily have proved unsuccessful.
How can you reach an agreement over access to your child this Father's Day?
There are various different ways to assist parents in reaching an agreement about the arrangements for not only Father's Day but also during term-time, school holidays and on other special occasions such as the child's birthday.
If direct discussions have failed, then you should consider putting forward your child arrangements proposal in a letter to the other parent or making a referral to mediation. An experienced family solicitor will be able to offer you advice and assistance in trying to reach an amicable resolution, but if no agreement can be reached then it may be necessary to issue a court application.
How will social distancing measures affect child arrangements this Father's Day?
The president of the Family Division has issued advice for separated families during the coronavirus crisis. The guidance states that whilst a child can be moved between households, it does not mean that they must do so.
The child's parents should make this decision based on what is in the child's best interests after an assessment of all the circumstances, including the child's present health, the risk of infection and whether there are any vulnerable adults living in either household.
If direct contact cannot take place then arrangements for regular indirect contact should be made instead, such as video calls or telephone calls.
The Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS) represent children in family court cases in England and have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children going through the family justice system. They have produced lots of guidance in relation to the arrangements for children during the current pandemic which can be accessed via their website.
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