Let’s face it, times have changed in the UK when it comes to child custody during divorce. The automatic assumption that mothers will always be granted custody no longer holds true. Increasingly, fathers are gaining custody of their children, and there is a growing push for parental equality. However, it’s important to note that even after being granted custody, the court can reconsider and revoke custody rights under certain circumstances. If you’re a mother concerned about losing custody or facing a challenge to your custody rights, it’s crucial to be aware of the specific grounds on which custody can be lost. Before delving into those grounds, let’s first explore the different types of child custody in the UK. Seeking guidance from a family law solicitor can help you navigate these matters and protect your rights as a parent.
The different types of child custody
Before we get to see how a mother can lose custody of her kids, it is important that we understand the different forms of custody that are there. So, here they are:
Legal custody – legal custody basically means that the parent is in charge of the kid’s upbringing until he or she becomes 18. During this time, the said parent will have the right and ability to make long-term decisions geared towards the best interests of the child, in all essential aspects of his or her life.
Physical custody – this is custody given to the parent who is more able and suitable to provide for the child on a day-to-day basis. Even when both parents have reached a co-parenting arrangement, the court will still determine the parent who gets physical custody of the child, and with whom the child will live. However, in such an arrangement, both parents have equal rights in making decisions that affect the child’s upbringing.
Sole custody – this is an arrangement where one parent is granted both legal and physical custody of the child. From this point on, this parent is now referred to as the custodial parent. As per UK law, the custodial parent is granted exclusive legal rights in everything regarding the kid’s upbringing, which means that he or she will be the one making all the decisions affecting all aspects of the child’s life.
Joint custody – this is similar to sole custody in many ways, only that the rights given to one parent under sole custody, will now be given to both parents. This means that both parents will be making decisions over the child’s welfare. Under joint custody, both parents can now come to a co-parenting arrangement, deciding on how each one of them will be spending time with the kids.
Split custody – this is an arrangement made in custody cases where more than one child is involved. In split custody cases, you find that siblings are divided between parents, but each kid will get to spend time with the other parent, though at separate times. Even though the kids splitting when their parents divorce isn’t always encouraged by family courts, there are instances when doing this is necessary. The most common ground why a court would consider split custody is the logistic aspects, especially where the kids’ education and personal activities are involved. But there are other factors that could come into play as well.
How can a mother lose custody of her child?
Now that you know the various types of custody arrangements in the UK, let’s now take a look at some of the reasons that could make a mother lose custody of her child. These reasons are very serious grounds and are never taken lightly by the judge, however, it is up to the party seeking custody from the mother to prove in court that indeed the mother deserves to lose custody. Without further ado, let’s take a look at these transgressions that we are talking about:
Child abuse – abusing a child, either physically or psychologically, is a serious offence in the UK, and a mother who is proven to be doing this to her children will most likely lose her custody. Talking of physical abuse, we are referring to things like hitting, kicking, biting, scratching, physical torture, sexual abuse, or basically any other form of injury inflicted on the child by the mother. As for psychological abuse, we are talking of things like;
- Making a child feel rejected, worthless or useless
- Humiliating, ridiculing, or demeaning the child
- Ignoring the child
- Terrorising the child through threats, of say, destruction of their possessions, physical violence, or even abandonment.
- Isolating the child or preventing him or her to have a social life
- Manipulating, corrupting, or exploiting the child thereby encouraging them to engage in wrong, inappropriate or deviant behaviours.
And even though a child may be unable to express or articulate the psychological abuse, it is very easy for child psychologists or social workers to spot social and behavioural signs of possible abuse – such as sleeping and eating disorders, anxiety, depression, anger management problems, as well as rebellious behaviour – which the judge could rely on when determining the case. If the court is convinced about the mother’s abusive behaviour towards the child, the law allows it to change the custody arrangements, especially if doing so will be in the best interest of the kid.
Violence at home – also, if it turns outs the mother is abusing other members of the family, not necessarily the children, she could also lose her custodial rights. The thing is, domestic violence isn’t something children should be exposed to at any point in time, given that it could harm their psychological development. Also, domestic violence could easily escalate in a situation, thereby exposing themselves to potential harm. So, if the court is convinced that the mother does engage in domestic abuse, it can have her custody revoked.
Serious neglect – neglecting your child by failing to provide basic necessities, such as health and education, could also have your custodial rights revoked, especially if your ex can prove this in court. Neglecting a child could be seen as a form of abuse, and it encompasses things like:
- Not keeping the children clean, or well-groomed
- Not sheltering the kid
- Lack of child supervision
- Failing to take him or her to crucial appointments
In addition, in the current era of the internet, a lot of kids are spending most of their time on their devices, which means that they are constantly exposed to danger, either mental illness, or other diseases. So, as a parent, you have to regulate your kids’ device usage, and if you don’t, the court may see that as child neglect.
However, we have to mention that some of the minor, and probably rare, infractions don’t automatically mean that you will lose custody, as they are things that could happen to anyone, as the judge can understand this. But, consistent and long-term neglect is something different, and if the child well being is threatened, then the court will intervene, and that means, you will lose custody.
Fabricating lies about abuse – some mothers may try to fabricate lies to have the other parent lose custody of their children, just for her to have sole custody. Now, if it is proven that indeed all the accusations are fabricated, then the mother can lose custody. And if it is discovered that the mother used her kids to deceive the investigative officer, or the lawyers representing her, it will be much worse for her, as it could not only lead to her losing custody, but also her visitation rights.
Severe mental health problems – this is not to say that mothers, or parents in general, who have mental health issues will automatically lose custody of their kids. However, according to recent research, it was found that compared to parents without mental illnesses, mothers with severe mental problems tend to lose custody, if, of course, it is proven in court that given her mental state, the safety of the kids is compromised. Given the sensitivity of this matter, the court may require to have both parents to undergo psychological testing, and might even need them to seek counseling, before it makes a decision. This decision will be based on these results. It may decide to take custody from the mother temporarily, if the mental problem at hand is curable, where she can then apply to have custody later on.
Alcohol and substance abuse – if it is proven that a mother has a high dependency on prohibited drugs or alcohol, she might have her custody and/or visitation rights revoked. If it is proven that a mother is addicted to these substances, her fitness and ability to take care of her kids will be put into question. After all, kids with such parents are likely to be neglected or abused by their parents, and in the worst case, these kids might start abusing the drugs themselves just like their mothers. So, if a mother is suspected of abusing drugs, the judge will order a drug test first before taking any action. We, however, have to state that failing the drug test might not automatically lead her to lose her custodial rights, but it will definitely influence the judge’s final decision.
Parental alienation – in the UK, the law encourages kids to have frequent and regular contact with their parents, which is why co-parenting agreements are legally recognised in the country. Under these agreements, parents do share visitation and custody rights, and both of them are legally bound to follow the custody agreement already in place. Now, mothers who attempt to tarnish the image of the other co-parent to the kids, or attempt to withhold the kids physically from the other parent, will be guilty of parental alienation, which could result in her losing custodial rights. You know, there are mothers who tend to make degrading or derogatory remarks about the other parent to the kids, just to turn them against the parent, which is completely unacceptable. You may also find mothers who deliberately plan important trips or appointments when the father won’t be available, just to try and lock him out of the kids’ life. This is also categorised as parental alienation, and if the father was to keep detailed notes of all these actions, he can use them as evidence against her, and the mother could have her custodial rights limited, or she could lose the rights altogether.
Court order violations – any mother who violates court orders, especially with regards to kids – with things like abuse and neglect of her kids or custody agreements – can have her custodial rights limited or withdrawn. For instance, if a court order shared custody between both parents, where each one has equal visitation and custody rights, and then the mother fails to comply with the orders, or let’s say, interferes with the other parent’s parenting time, she will be said to have violated a court order, and this may have some consequences in terms of losing her custodial rights or having the rights limited. And if at some point a mother exhibits behaviour that portrays her as unfit to protect her kids, she may lose whatever rights she might have left.
Non-commitment to parental responsibilities – as a mother, you can have your child’s best interest at heart and you sincerely want to spend time with them to raise them. However, if you are always not present, you are always away from home, maybe on business, job or military service, or any other activity that keeps you away from home, it might put your custody rights in jeopardy. Look, it might seem unfair to the mother, but the truth is, family courts in the UK are primarily concerned with the kids’ welfare – that they are always protected and cared for. So, if a father uses the fact that you are not present as evidence when trying to gain custody of the kids, the court may have no option other than granting him custody. So, if you are in such a situation, maybe you should make some life or work adjustments so as to give your kids ample time. Remember, just like your job or business, your kids are important too! Speak to your family attorney to see what you can do before things get out of hand.
What can you do if your ex is trying to take custody rights from you?
For starters, you should avoid all the ways we outlined above if you don’t want to lose custody of your kids. However, you might still have an ex who is trying everything possible to ensure that you lose your custody rights. One thing you should know is that personal bias together with other related factors might actually work against his claims, which automatically helps yours. Also, the good thing is that the burden of proof lies with him, and who knows, since he might be fighting for custody out of spite, he might even end up contradicting his own claims, so relax!
But it is also good to be armed with important knowledge when dealing with a custody battle case. So be aware of the following factors that could seriously work in your favour:
Is your ex-partner filing complaints repeatedly? – often times, you may find an ex that has refused to move on and has resorted to filing custody cases just to get back at you, stress you out, and disrupt your daily life. But you know what, him doing this might be working in your favour since every time he/she files a case, investigations are done, and maybe previously, he/she has had all the cases dismissed due to lack of evidence. This erodes the credibility of your ex’s case.
Is your ex overly violent or emotional? – if your ex hurls insults against you, or is always angry, and can’t control it, he might be sabotaging his own custody claim. In fact, if you can record one of these outbursts, you can present it in court as evidence, thereby weakening his case even further.
Lack of verifiable evidence – for your ex to gain custody of your kids, he has to prove that you are unfit to continue taking care of your kids. But if he has repeatedly failed to provide any evidence in court in the past to show the legitimacy of his claims, then the court will just ignore the request. You will be safe.
How to get full custody of a child without going to court?
Given that child custody is a legal and enforceable arrangement that has to be approved by a judge, many people tend to think that it has to be enforced in court. But the truth of the matter is that not all custody agreements have to be worked in a courtroom. Even though you will still need to have it approved by a judge, you can get to an arrangement outside the court and then bring it to a judge for approval.
Basically, to get custody outside of court, both of you will need to come up with a parenting plan, which outlines the schedule, duties, and responsibilities of each parent in relation to the kids. In the plan, you will also outline how other parties might be involved in the kids’ life. You can create this plan, either by yourselves or with the help of your family attorney. You have to agree on the content of the parenting plan, and then both of you ensure that you sign the document before you present it to a judge for approval.
Secondly, other than a parenting plan, you can also have a direct discussion with your partner and come to a custodial agreement. This method is actually highly encouraged, especially if both you are your ex are still on speaking terms. This way, you will be able to remove a lot of work from the process, which will be cost efficient on your part, as you won’t have to hire an attorney for the entire process – may be right at the end when signing the agreement.
Thirdly, if you are not on speaking terms, you can use both your attorneys to come to the best arrangement, and given how experienced and knowledgeable they are, it shouldn’t be as hard.
Who has custody of a child if there is no court order?
As you may know, a custody order/arrangement basically highlights when the child should be with each parent, and also which parent has the authority to make what decisions related to the child. Now, if there is no custody order in place, then these arrangements simply don’t exist, and that means custodial rights may go to anyone. Basically, in such a situation, custodial rights should automatically go to the parent who spends more time with the kid, and whom the local authorities recognise as the legal parent. This, of course, depends on the parent’s marital status, especially at the time when the child was born. If the parents were married, then that means that both parents will have equal custody rights over the child, even when there is no court order. But if the parents were, and still are, unmarried, then the mother will automatically have the sole legal custody of the child, until the state declares otherwise.
How can you get a custody order?
If you are looking to get a custody order, the first thing you should do would be to fill out a custody petition, which you will then hand over to your local family court. You can get this petition, either from the courthouse or online. Now, even before the court starts hearing the case, if you are afraid that the other parent might attempt to sneak the child out of the country, you can request the judge to issue an emergency order, which would prevent this from happening. But you will need to provide evidence that the child is in danger for this order to be issued.
Once you open the case, if you have failed to come to an agreement with your ex, then the judge will have to decide on what should happen. In this case, you will have to go through the entire court process, where each of you will get a chance to present your case and provide evidence to back it up. The judge will then have to examine all the arguments and evidence before making its decision. This could take a long time to be over, but in the end, the court will make a decision that will be in the best interest of the child.
Will police enforce child custody?
It depends! If the child is safe and is with a parent who has parental responsibility, then the police don’t have any powers or rights to remove that child from that parent. If a child custody order isn’t being adhered to, then you will have to go back to court, which will enforce it. Child custody is a matter that only the family court can enforce, and not the police. The police can only intervene if the child is in serious physical danger with the other parent.
As a mother, if you don’t want to lose custody of your kids, then you must not engage in the activities we outlined earlier. If you do, then the other parent can, and successfully so, contest your custodial rights in court, since the court will only make decisions that will be in the best interest of the child. So, be sure to provide a stable, healthy, and loving home to your kids, as it’s the only way you can’t lose your child’s custody rights.