A guide to fathers rights in the UK
When it comes to dealing with family law issues, and fathers rights in particular, UK fathers can sometimes find they have a number of hurdles to overcome. While there have been great improvements in the justice system to give an equal voice to both mums and dads, it still might not quite be where we would want at this moment and there is still work to do.
In this blog, we will take a look at fathers rights in the UK and explain what they are. Knowing your rights and understanding the law to a certain extent is helpful to ensure your child continues to see their father.
What rights do fathers have in the UK?
What are my rights as a father? Can the child’s mother keep me from them? These are two of the most complex questions fathers in the UK ask concerning family law. Both parents are responsible for caring for a child and providing them with motherly and fatherly attention. This is meant to ensure children are raised in the best possible conditions.
Under UK family law, neither parent can stop a child from seeing the other parent, unless by a court order. This is dependent on whether the father’s contact with the child puts that child’s safety or well-being at risk. If it’s proven that having contact with the father is detrimental to the child, such contact will not be allowed by the court. The same goes for mothers who may be a risk to their child.
Valid reasons to prevent fathers from contacting their child
As it is a child’s right to have a good and loving relationship with both parents, the bar is set quite high as to reasons that a court would use to prevent them from seeing their father. Such examples may be:
Such examples would need to be proven and the court would need to be convinced that a child was at risk of serious harm, before denying their right to see a parent.
If none of the aforementioned grounds apply, the mother can’t legally keep the father away from the child. That’s because UK law protects the relationship between parents and a child. The key here is that a child has a right to a relationship with both their parents.
Unlikely reasons a court would order no contact between a child and a father
These are some examples of when a court would be less likely to order no contact between a child and their father. The list is not exhaustive.
1. Being unpunctual when picking up or returning the child
Punctuality is important when collecting and returning a child to the other parent. It helps build trust and gives the child certainty and consistency. But we know that life and circumstances can change. Repeatedly being late to collect your child or dropping them off later than agreed shows a lack of respect for the other parent and the child. But in itself would not be a reason for a court to deny contact.
2. Refusing or failing to provide child support
The areas of law that cover child maintenance and child arrangements are two completely separate areas. Once again, children have a legal right to have contact with both parents, including their father, even if he doesn’t pay child support or is behind with his payment. A court would take a dim view if the child was being punished because the father is not paying child support.
3. Arguing or being abusive
The parenting relationship between yourselves and the relationship you have with the child are separate matters. Ideally, you would work together as parents in the child’s best interests, but if this is not possible, you can keep a handover book or use a parenting app to help you communicate. You should not let your poor relationship with the other parent deny the rights of the child to enjoy a good relationship with both their mum and dad.
4. The father has a new partner
A court is unlikely to withhold or order no contact because you have a new partner. As long as that partner is not a serious risk to the child (see above for examples of serious risks), then one parent cannot stop the other from seeing their child and introducing them to any new partner.
5. The child is refusing to see their father
This is always a difficult area and much of it will depend on the age of a child and the reasons for not wanting to see their dad. At a young age, under 8 years of age, a court may consider that a child is too young to make their own, informed decision on such a situation. As they get older, and certainly from the age of 12 plus, the child’s wishes are paramount. It is their decision to see their parents after all. Ideally, parents will work together to try to understand why the child does not wish to see their father and work out a plan to improve it.
Family mediation is a proven tool to help in all these situations and to discuss a fathers rights.
What are the rights of unmarried fathers in the UK?
Unmarried fathers can experience confusion or frustration when it comes to their rights in matters of family law.
In the UK, the mother has automatic parental responsibility for the child. The biological father has automatic parental responsibility if they are named on the birth certificate (or if they married at the time of birth). If they are not named on the birth certificate, they can then acquire parental responsibility in a number of ways. Just to be clear, parental responsibility gives the parent certain responsibilities to look after the child, such as making decisions on their health, education, and where they live.
Fathers can achieve parental responsibility in the following circumstances:
If you’re an unmarried father and none of these circumstances apply to you, it’s likely you don’t have automatic parental responsibility. That means you have fewer rights when it comes to your child. The mother will be able to make most of the decisions about the child’s upbringing and she won’t need to consult with you or ask for your consent. In order to apply for a child arrangements order through the courts, you would need to ask permission from the court, or apply for parental responsibility at the same time.
Does parental responsibility mean I have the right to see my child?
Many people assume that when you have parental responsibility, it also means that you have the right to access the child. However, that’s not always the case, especially if the parents are separated and the child lives with one of them. When parents separate, they should ideally decide together where the child will stay and when.
If parents don’t agree, the next logical step is to engage in family mediation with a family mediator.
Parental responsibility in itself does not grant you any rights to see your child. The child has a right to see both their parents and parental responsibility means you need to make important decisions in the best interests of the child.
What is considered reasonable access to a child?
“Reasonable access” is quite a general term, so the meaning varies from family to family. It is not a recognised legal term. It’s not
up to the court to determine what reasonable access means because each family is different. Each family, each child, and each situation is different. The law is deliberately flexible on this to accommodate every child’s needs.
Ideally, the arrangements will be agreed upon between the parents themselves, or through family mediation. When a child is spending time with their father, a court would expect that:
What can I expect if things go to court?
The most important thing to remember is that the courts prioritise the best interests of the child. That is their duty and they are acting on behalf of the child. If you go to court, you are doing so to enforce the right of your child to see their father. Not the other way around. It’s an important difference.
If the court agrees that it is in a child’s best interest for them to make an order, then this order may cover:
Neither a mother nor a father has any automatic rights when it comes to seeing their child. Instead, the child has a right to a good and loving relationship with both parents. The parents need to agree on how this will work in practice and ideally adapt and keep it flexible in the best interests of their child.
If this is not possible – and it should always be kept open as an option, then the next step is to try family mediation. There are 11 methods in total to reach an agreement, but if you do have to go to court, the court will only make a child arrangements order if they believe it is in the interests of the child to do so. It is very rare that a no-contact order is made.
If you would like help with fathers rights or a parental dispute, please contact our Business Support Team to find out more about your options.
If you are needing legal advice, you can contact Child Law Advice – they are a registered charity that help families and children with all aspects of law relating to them. They offer a 30-minute consultation for £25.