Father’s Rights To His Children After Divorce

December 23, 2022 Admin 0 Comments

In divorces or separations, many fathers mistakenly believe that mothers are favored in child custody battles or visitation rights. This misconception often leads them to assume they have no right to see their children, causing them to refrain from establishing contact after the separation. However, this belief couldn’t be further from the truth. In most countries, including the UK, fathers have legal entitlements and can play a significant role in their children’s lives, even after a divorce. It’s important to consult a family law solicitor to understand and protect these rights. If your ex-partner becomes an obstacle to your visitation rights, there are legal steps you can take to assert and safeguard your parental rights.

What are the rights of a father in seeing his children?

For starters, according to UK law, the child has a right to be taken care of by both parents. This means that both parents have a right or are responsible for caring for the welfare of the kids, which includes providing for them the basic necessities such as food, shelter, and clothes. However, fathers’ rights do vary, depending on whether he and the mother are legally married or have been separated, or whether, or not, the father has parental responsibility. Let’s take a look at each of these scenarios:

The rights of a father who is in a marriage

When in a marriage, the rights of a father over the kids are exactly the same as those of a mother when it comes to their children. This means that they both have equal rights to share legal and physical custody of the children and also provide for them. And it remains this way until a family court determines otherwise. In addition, if the child was born in the marriage, with the said father as the biological parent, then he assumes automatic parental responsibility, meaning that he will also have to right to make decisions over the child’s legal, educational, health, religious and other social matters. In child custody battles, the court may ask for a marriage certificate or a child’s birth certificate as evidence. Basically, what the judge wants to see is if the father was involved in the child’s life since birth and how their present relationship is. So, the inclusion of the father’s name in the birth certificate will certainly be used as evidence of the father’s presence from the beginning. The court will also determine how the father’s presence affects the child’s welfare. All these will be very crucial in determining the custody or arrangement between both parents.

The rights of a father after separation

The relationship between a father and his child doesn’t stop simply because he got separated from the mother. For this reason, the mother should not get in the way of this relationship. In fact, the father has as much rights as the mother even after they both separate. In addition, parental responsibility is not lost by the father just because of separation or divorce. What happens is that when the parents separate, there should ideally be a co-parenting agreement reached between them. But if they are unable to reach an agreement, they can always seek legal advice on steps they can take. In most cases, after involving third-party both the mother and the father do reach an amicable co-parenting agreement. But in the event an agreement is not achieved at this point, the father can apply to a family court to obtain a father’s rights over the child.

What about unmarried fathers?

When it comes to unmarried fathers, they don’t assume parental responsibility over their children automatically. They can only do so if they are named in the child’s birth certificate, as it would indicate that they were involved in the child’s life from the start. The inclusion of his name on the certificate would mean that his rights over the child are the same as those of the mother, and that would extend to contact as well as being consulted before any major decisions directly affecting the child are taken. But when it comes to an unmarried father whose name isn’t included on the certificate, do not have parental responsibility. This means not only doesn’t he have the right to see the child, but he also doesn’t have to be consulted when decisions affecting the child are being taken. For this to change, the father needs to establish paternity in a family court in order to obtain parental responsibility, which will, in turn, give him the right to see the child.

What about stepfathers?

Stepfamilies are quite common in the country, as there are many parents, especially mothers, who are beginning relationships with individuals who aren’t their kids’ biological parents. Of course, circumstances do force some of these issues, but when they happen, and a mother finds love with a man who is ready to play the role of father to her kids, it may be the best thing to ever happen to the kids. You see, you may find that the stepfather has formed a very strong bond with the kids, thereby playing a pivotal role in their lives. Now, such a father may wonder where he legally stands in the child’s life, but the thing is, being a step-parent to the kids, he has no legal rights over the child. The only way for him to acquire any rights over the step-kids is by acquiring parental responsibility, which, previously, could have been obtained by adopting the kids or obtaining a residence order. But today, he can obtain parental responsibility under the following situations:

  • A court issues an order granting the step-parent custody over the child.
  • The step-parent adopts the child.
  • When the court issues a parental responsibility order.
  • When the kids’ parents agree and sign an agreement granting the stepfather parental responsibility.

After the stepfather acquires parental responsibility, he will have the same rights over the kids just like a natural parent.

Can a mother remove the father’s rights over his child?

Yes, a mother can remove the father’s right to see his child/children. But this can only happen if the father is not the biological parent to the kid or wasn’t there when the child was born or in the child’s early years. Of course, this would mean that his name won’t be included in the birth certificate, which is what, under UK law, gives a father parental responsibility. However, for a father with parental responsibility over the child, either by virtue of being married to the mother, especially at the time of birth, or having obtained parental responsibility from a family court, the mother can’t remove his rights. The only time a mother can restrict the rights of a father with parental responsibility is when she feels that the child’s safety is in jeopardy when with him. It could be that the father is causing physical or psychological harm to the child. When a mother takes note of this, she has all the right to restrict the father’s access to the child while considering whether to press charges or not or go to court for an order that prevents the father from seeing the child. Now, when such an issue is taken to court, the decision given will always be in the child’s best interests. So, if it is established that the father is indeed causing harm to the child, psychologically or physically, his rights over the child will be removed instantly, and he might even be ordered to never be anywhere close to them.

Other valid reasons to stop a father from seeing his child

Other than the father causing physical or psychological harm to the child, there are a couple of other reasons why a mother can legally restrict his access to the kids. They include the following:

  • If it is established that the father is engaged in criminal activity
  • If it is established that the father has been harassing or abusing the mother, especially in front of the child
  • If it is established that the father has been heavily abusing drugs. This makes him dangerous to be around, given that drugs hinder good judgment, making him irrational.
  • Or, any other dangerous behaviour that puts the child’s welfare at great risk.

These are some of the reasons why a father’s right to see his child might be taken away. But what are some of the reasons that don’t count or aren’t enough to strip him of his rights over his kids? They include reasons like:

  • That he refuses to pay child support.
  • He never picks up his child from school, and when he does so, he is always late.
  • Or, the father doesn’t see his child as regularly as the mother feels he should.

It is important to note that UK law is entirely centred on the child’s welfare, which means that any decision the court takes will be aimed at improving his/her welfare. So, if you, as a father or even a mother, having access to the child doesn’t improve his/her life, or worse still, you are putting it in great danger, then a judge won’t hesitate to take the rights away. Ideally, though, the courts do actively encourage both parents to have healthy relationships between them and their kids.  

What happens when a mother restricts a father from seeing his child for no reason?

As we’ve mentioned, the only time a mother can restrict a father from seeing their child is only when there is reasonable cause, such as the child’s welfare is at great risk when he or she is with him. But, what can you do if you, as a father, are restricted from seeing your child despite a child arrangement or a child contact order being in place? For starters, you can apply to the court for an enforcement order, which will compel the parent in breach to comply with the orders given. And unless there is a good reason why this parent is restricting you, this order will certainly be enforced. And other than issuing the order, the court may also issue penalties such as doing community service or fines to the parent in breach.

Other than going to court, there are several other actions you can take when your ex-partner denies you access to your child. They are as follows:

  • Try to discuss what the problem could be with the ex-partner, and try to find a solution without confrontation.
  • Get a solicitor for advice and to send a legal letter setting out your proposals.
  • You can also get a mediator or a family member to intervene and help solve any disputes.
  • If all the above don’t work, you can now apply to a court to enforce the child arrangement orders.

What happens when an absentee father comes back into the child’s life?

Misunderstandings between couples are pretty common, not just in the UK, but also across the world. And when they happen, you find that one parent, often the father, leaves the family unit, leaving all his responsibilities in the early life of the child. Now, the thing is, just because this parent has been absent for a significant part of the child’s life, it doesn’t mean that he loses his rights over the child. So long as his name is on the child’s birth certificate, then they are deemed to still have Parental Responsibility as stipulated under the Children’s Act 1989. So, regardless of how long the father, or mother had been absent in the child’s life, their rights over the child don’t change, legally. As long as his presence doesn’t endanger the child in any way, he still has the right to participate in the child’s affairs.

But what if the child doesn’t want any contact with the father?

There are circumstances where the child doesn’t want to see you. It could be that you have been absent for far too long, or there are other reasons. Now, when you are in such a situation, unless the reason why the child doesn’t want contact affects their welfare, contact is still encouraged. You need to engage either the other parent or the child to find out the reasons why he/she is refusing contact. Spend time with the child, you might find out the exact reasons, and you might even solve them in the process.

Final thought

As you can see, your rights as a father are as much as those of a mother when it comes to your child. So, as long as your relationship with the child is healthy, nobody can ever take your rights away, as it is guaranteed under the Children’s Act of 1989. Only when a judge deems you a great risk to the child will the court take away your parental responsibility. Otherwise, you need to fight for your rights!     

*Disclaimer: This website copy is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
For personalised legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances, book an initial consultation with our family law solicitors HERE.

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