Father’s Rights after Separation or Divorce

Any relationship breakdown is tough, especially if you are a parent and children are involved. “Finding out about your rights and responsibilities as a father is important so that you know what you’re entitled to and what the next steps may be,” explains our Family and Matrimonial Solicitor Lisa Cogger. As you probably never anticipated being in this situation, facing a future as a single parent can be daunting. Here are some points to consider:

Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility is a legal status that means you have a duty to care for and protect your child. If you were married to your partner when your child was born you have automatic Parental Responsibility. If you weren’t married and your child was born after 1st December 2003 and your name is on the birth certificate, you automatically have Parental Responsibility. Parental Responsibility usually ends when the child is as young as 16 or when they are 19 and at university.

Can you make decisions on your child’s upbringing?

Yes, if you have Parental Responsibility (PR). PR gives you the right to contribute to joint decision making regarding your child’s future such as:

  • giving consent to medical treatment
  • choosing their school
  • choosing their name
  • choosing their religion
  • deciding how they should be brought up

Everyday decisions are left up to the parent who has primary care of the children. Your ex partner does not have to consult you about such day-to-day decisions.

Of course, following a separation you and your ex partner are not going to agree about everything. However, for the ongoing stability of any children involved it is important to work as a team and find a way to listen, consider and respect the other person’s opinion.

One of the best ways of doing this is through Mediation, which can offer you the tools that will pave the way for clear communication in the future. At this stage it is a good idea to draw up a parenting agreement at the outset which shall hopefully avoid any conflicts in the future.

Will Parental Responsibility automatically pass to me if my child’s mother dies?

This is not guaranteed. If two people have a child but don’t live together and the child lives with the mother and the father has regular access, when the mother dies, unless there is a good reason for the child not to be living with their natural parent, the courts generally favour the child being with the parent that is still alive. A child will be prevented from living with the surviving parent only when it is deemed detrimental to the welfare of the child. Every situation is different but here are some of the deciding factors:

  • Where a child has spent a long time living with someone else (eg. grandparents) and already has an established attachment to them
  • Where the child’s surviving parent is not capable of caring for their child (eg. drink, drugs, criminal activity)
  • When the child is able to independently decide that they do not want to live with the surviving parent
  • Where the standard of care the child would receive from the current carer would be better than what would be provided by the surviving parent
How do I get Parental Responsibility?

If you are the biological father, you can file for Parental Responsibility which will give you the legal rights and responsibilities for your child. If your ex partner contests you having Parental Responsibility you need to make an application to the Court. In considering an application from a father the Court will take into consideration:

  • The degree of commitment shown by the father to his child
  • The degree of attachment between father and child
  • The father’s reasons for applying for the order

In all cases, a court will not unreasonably reject an application for PR, and all decisions will be based on what is ultimately in the child’s best interests, with consideration of their welfare being paramount.

How often can I see my child?

You may be able to agree the frequency of arrangements independently with your ex partner. However, if this is not possible and you can’t agree with your child’s mother about future arrangements and establishing a routine you will need to apply for a court order to determine the frequency of arrangements and such longer durations e.g. holidays. The court will try and help you and the mother reach an agreement. This may involve a Cafcass Officer. In England and Wales, Cafcass (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) is an organisation responsible for looking after the welfare of children during the court process.

Financial Responsibility

As a parent you are legally bound to pay maintenance for your child. This money provides help with the child’s everyday living costs such as clothes, food and other essentials. The amount you have to pay will be weighed against a number of factors, such as your income and how you have shared the arrangements of the child, and should ideally be established as early on as possible via a family-based arrangement. If you can’t agree or if an arrangement between parents isn’t working, you can ask the courts or statutory child maintenance service to get involved (the Child Support Act provides the legal framework for child maintenance payments through this Governmental service).

If you need further expert legal advice on any aspect of Father’s Rights or Child Arrangement Disputes please do not hesitate to call Lisa Cogger today on 01538 370830 or 07814 175350. Alternatively you can email her at lc@bowcockpursaill.co.uk.

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