Parents often assume that they have an automatic right to contact with their children. Unfortunately, this is not true. The right to contact actually belongs to the child in question. It is hoped that when parents separate, the arrangements for a child to spend time with each parent can be agreed directly between them; if it cannot then steps to address this need to be taken.
Does parental responsibility give me rights to contact?
Having parental responsibility for a child gives you some rights and responsibilities, such as those relating to your child’s education, religion, medical treatment, discipline, their name or change of name, but this does not afford an automatic right to contact with children. Parental responsibility will exist if:
- you are the child’s mother
- you are the child’s father and
- were married to the child’s mother when the child was born or have married them since
- were registered on the birth certificate at the time the child was born (if that is after December 2003)
- have re-registered the birth certificate with your name on it (if that is after Dec 2003)
- you have entered into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
- you have obtained parental responsibility via an order from the court
Agreeing contact arrangements
As separated parents, you should try to agree arrangements for contact with your children between you wherever possible. Arrangements should be reasonable and in the child’s best interests. There is no definition of what reasonableness is: it will differ from family to family. For example, some parents may be able to share care 50/50 or have an agreement where one parent is the main carer and both share holidays and weekends. If you are able to agree, you can write a parenting plan. This is a document detailing how you will continue to look after your children and can cover contact, financial arrangements, health issues and other matters relating your children. Writing a parenting plan is an ideal opportunity for you to focus your minds on putting your children first. It encourages mutual support and respect on co-operative parenting after separation and can provide clarity to the arrangements that will hopefully avoid fundamental disputes arising in the future.
Where contact cannot be agreed between the parents
Not all parents are able to agree contact arrangements without professional help. Mediation can be useful for some parents, but if you still cannot agree, you can apply to the court for a child–arrangements order that can determine with whom your children should live and how much time they should spend time with their other parent. Sometimes only supervised contact will be approved by the court whereby the non-resident parent will usually meet their child in a place other than their own home, or be accompanied by someone else, such as a grandparent. Grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and those with a close relationship to the child can also apply to the court for contact. If you have a child-arrangements order in place and you are refused contact in line with that order, the other parent may be in contempt of court and further action may be taken.
Where can I take my children during contact?
Generally, and as long as it is appropriate, you may take your child wherever you like during your contact time, but you cannot take them outside England or Wales without the permission of all those with parental responsibility or the permission of the court, unless you have an order that says you are the parent with whom the children reside, in which case you may take them out of the country for no more than 28 days.
How can Graysons help with contact?
Our family experts can help you to agree a parenting plan or can apply to the court for an order relating to your children. We can give you lots of practical tips and guidance and explain the law. Contact us as early as possible, as with the support and guidance of a specialist solicitor, it may be possible to resolve matters through negotiations and compromise, even if you currently don’t believe this is likely. You can also find out about children and divorce on our web pages.
Author: Bradie Pell, partner and head of Graysons family law department