It is often the case that after a separation or divorce the children reside with their mother and if the relationship between the parents is difficult this can lead to problems over contact with the children for the father. Fathers’ rights can be a fairly contentious issue and have attracted considerable interest in the past.
It is important to remember that parental rights and responsibilities are acquired automatically by married fathers and unmarried fathers who are registered as the father on the child’s birth certificate (as long as they were registered as such after 4 May 2006).
If there are problems between you and the other parent of your child, you should always try to resolve matters by agreement first and going to court should be seen as a last resort.
The father of a child automatically has parental rights and responsibilities for that child if they are:
- Married to the child’s mother, or
- Registered as the father on the birth certificate (as long as it is after 4 May 2006)
Parental responsibilities include the responsibility to safeguard and promote their child’s health, development and welfare, and to provide guidance and direction. A parent is also responsible for maintaining contact with their child. The rights which parents have mirror these responsibilities, and their function is to enable parents to fulfil their responsibilities. These rights and responsibilities continue until the child reaches 16 years, except for the right and responsibility to provide guidance, which continues until the child reaches 18 years.
The starting point is to make sure that you do indeed have parental rights and responsibilities.
If you do not have them automatically (see under ‘What rights do fathers have?’ above), you can acquire them by:
- Signing and registering a s.4 agreement with the child’s mother
- Re-registering the birth of the child, or
- Applying through the court
Where there is cooperation between parents then there should be no need for rights to be enforced as such. However sometimes relations can be poor and parents can need some additional support in working out arrangements for their children. It is possible to enter into a formal parental responsibilities and parental rights agreement (commonly known as a section 4 agreement). This type of agreement is signed by both parents and then registered, which is what makes it effective. A separate Minute of Agreement might also assist with setting out the contact arrangements agreed and this can be relied upon as a statement of what both parents expect to happen on a regular basis. Such agreements are not enforceable in the way that a court order is, but unless there are problems with the operation of the agreement then there should be no need to have a court order to regulate care arrangements. As a last resort however court action can be raised to seek orders in respect of parental rights and parental responsibilities and the court may grant such orders as it considers necessary and in the child’s best interests.
Our Family Law Solicitors can advise you on your parental rights and your options given your specific circumstances, as well as draw up any legal agreement between you and the mother of your children.
Where relationships are particularly difficult, mediation can sometimes help. At Thorntons we have a Solicitor trained in family mediation who can work with you and your ex to help you come to an agreement. If you cannot reach agreement, we can guide you through applying to court for an order for contact or residence.
At Thorntons Family Law, we offer an initial free no-obligation chat over the phone to outline your options and the possible costs.
Depending on your case and circumstances, the next step is to meet a Family Law Solicitor about your case and the way forward.
Call us on 03330 430 150 for a chat or contact us to book an appointment.
We are always clear to clients about the potential costs of any option and offer a range of payment options. In some cases we can offer clients a fixed price package. If we cannot offer a fixed price service, we charge based on the time we spend on your case, including meetings, emails, phone calls and court representations. Depending on your case and circumstances, you may also need to cover outlays, such as court costs or payments to independent experts. We will set out our fees and likely extra costs for you at the start and keep you informed of any possible changes as your case progresses.
Please note we do not offer Legal Aid for this service.