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Insight | For Individuals

Establishing connections: issues to consider for separating fathers

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When a child’s parents separate, issues such as parental responsibility and child contact are often brought to the forefront and need to be resolved. These matters are of particular importance to fathers who may not be the resident parent and who might not have parental responsibility.

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Parental responsibility

Unlike mothers, fathers do not automatically have parental responsibility - the most common methods of a father obtaining parental responsibility are: being married to the mother at the time of the birth; being named on the child’s birth certificate; or entering a parental responsibility agreement with the mother. In situations where a father does not have parental responsibility (and a parental responsibility agreement cannot be agreed with the mother), the father can obtain parental responsibility by making an application to the court.

Parental responsibility is very important in practice (especially in situations where the parents to a child have separated) as it allows a parent to have a say in decisions regarding the upbringing of the child. Although the resident parent will be able to make day-to-day decisions regarding the child without consulting the non-resident parent (such as deciding bedtime and what food the child should eat), the non-resident parent with parental responsibility should be consulted in significant decisions regarding a child’s life. For example, where one parent wishes to take the child to live in a different part of the UK, they will need to first obtain the consent of the other parties with parental responsibility. If however they are the only parent with parental responsibility then the parent and the child could relocate without the other parent’s permission.

Where parents with parental responsibility cannot agree on significant decisions, the matter will need to be decided by the courts; the resident parent cannot go ahead and make the decision without the agreement of the other parent with parental responsibility.

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Child contact

One of the guiding principles of the Childrens Act 1989 is that a court should “presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of each parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare”. This provision serves as a reminder to all that in most cases, it is in a child’s best interests for both parents to be involved in their life. In most cases this will mean that, post-separation of the parents the court will find that it is in the child’s best interests to live with both parties or live with one party and have face to face contact with the other.

A child’s living arrangements can be decided by mutual agreement between the parties; or, where an agreement can’t be reached, a child arrangements order may be made by the court formalising the child’s living arrangement. The court has a large discretion and may order that a child is to live with both parents, in these situations the court will prescribe which days / nights the child is to stay with each parent; alternatively, the court might decide the number of days / nights the child is to spend with each parent and then allow the parents to sort out the detail between themselves.

Child arrangements orders have additional consequences regarding a parent’s rights in relation to the child. For example, the order will impact a parent’s right to take the child outside the UK. Parents with a “lives with” child arrangement order may take a child out of the country on holiday for a period not exceeding one month, a parent without a “lives with” child arrangement order must first obtain the consent of the other party/parties with parental responsibility to remove the child from the jurisdiction or obtain the leave of the court.

Despite the order of the court, there are sadly many reported cases where one parent with whom the child lives is coldheartedly hostile to contact and they repeatedly fail to comply with the court order.

Heald Family Law Team can assist you in these situations by making various applications to the court. One such application would involve attaching a warning notice to the child arrangement order. If a party breaches a child arrangement order with a warning notice attached, they will be in contempt of court, and this threat can be enough to prevent a party from breaching the order.

We are here to help if you would like advice on parental responsibility or your other rights as a father - please get in contact to arrange a consultation.


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