Father’s Day: Getting Contact with Your Children

Portrait of Cara Nuttall
Cara Nuttall
Partner and Family Law Solicitor

For many Father’s Day is one of happy celebration, but there are sadly many people who find it a painful and difficult day as they fight to restore contact with their children. 

Father’s Day can often bring up feelings of sadness and despair, especially when social media is full of pictures of happy families, but it’s important not to lose hope. 

The Court works on the basis that it’s in a child’s best interests to have a proper relationship with both parents, unless it can be shown that these relationships could put them at risk.  It is not for a parent to justify why they should have a role in their child’s life. 

If you are struggling to see your child, or to have consistent contact, you probably have a lot of questions which might include:

1. Do I still have a say in my child’s upbringing even if they don’t live with me?

In England and Wales, the law separates out how a child’s time is divided with parental rights.  As a father, whether you have parental responsibility or not will depend on whether you were married to the mother, or whether you are named on the child’s birth certificate. 

If you have parental responsibility then you have an equal say in all the important decisions about your child’s upbringing, no matter how much or how little time you spend with them.

2.What do I do if my ex says I can only see the children if I pay more money?

The law is very clear that financial arrangements for children are completely separate to how much contact you should have with them. 

Whether you want to pay additional money is a matter of choice, but your ability to spend time with your child doesn’t depend on it, and generally the Courts will take a dim view of “resident” parents who hold contact to ransom in this way.

3. Do I have to go to mediation if I know my ex won’t agree to contact?

As the rules stand, you must attend at least a MIAM (mediation information and assessment meeting) before you can issue an application to the Court, or your application won’t be allowed to proceed. 

There are exceptions, such as where:

  • A situation is urgent
  • There are serious welfare issues
  • There has been domestic abuse

But if none of these exceptions apply to your case, you will have to try mediation. 

It’s important not to write mediation off as it can still work even in difficult circumstances, but a mediator will help you decide if it is worth continuing.

4. Will an agreement in mediation be legally binding?

Some people are put off mediation by the fact an agreement reached in mediation is not automatically legally binding. But agreements made in mediation are important, and can be helpful to any future proceedings.

In some cases, the Court can make a Court Order in the terms you have agreed in mediation.

A solicitor can advise you  whether this is possible in your circumstances and if necessary, help you make that application.

5. What if there are long Court waiting times?

Sadly the Court system is very slow at the moment, and it can mean that you may have to wait a long time to get a hearing, and to get orders made.

It is worth talking to a Family Solicitor about whether any other options might help, such as arbitration, or a private instruction of an Independent Social Worker. 

6. Can I just go and collect my child?

There may well be circumstances in which it would not be breaking the law to collect your child for example from school, but ‘self-help’ is rarely a good idea and can have negative and expensive consequences.

It can also mean the Court sees you as unpredictable or lacking child focus. 

If you’re thinking about taking things into your own hands and doing something you know the other parent doesn’t agree with, it’s important to discuss it with a legal professional first. That way you can make an informed decision about whether it is a good idea and understand all of the possible consequences of your actions. 

There may be times when you need to take such action to protect your child from a dangerous situation at home but you should always get legal and professional advice first, to avoid it backfiring.

7. I think my child is being alienated from me – what can I do?

Child alienation can be devastating to parents and children and where the court believes it has taken place, it will be treated seriously.

The Court can make Orders providing for children therapeutic support, or for them to be separately represented in the legal proceedings.

In extreme cases, the Court can transfer residence or even send a non-compliant parent to prison, but these are last resorts and can upset the child even more.

If you have reason to believe your child is being alienated from you, acting quickly can be essential as these situations often become more difficult to resolve the longer they go on. 

A good Child Law Solicitor can help look at whether a Court application is needed, and the types of measures you should be asking the Court to put in place to protect the children, and protect and restore their relationship with you.

If you are struggling to see your child, the important thing is not to give up hope.

There are a lot of myths and horror stories on the internet, but the truth is that the Courts don’t want to see children lose loving and devoted parents from their lives, and will try to help.

There is no shame in accessing additional support, if you struggle to cope, and some separated parents find counselling, therapy or support groups a useful source of hope and support to help them through this difficult time.

Our team of Family Law Solicitors have expertise in complex child issues and we will be more than happy to advise you on your options. We will always tailor our advice to your situation, so get in touch today to for expert legal advice about what you can do. 

For initial legal advice call our Family Law and Divorce Solicitors

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