Citizens Advice Bureau advises fathers on child contact procedures
Recent years have seen an increase in the number of people visiting the Citizens Advice Bureau after the breakdown of a marriage or a relationship.
Where children are involved, one issue that frequently arises is that the father is seeking the right to keep his child living with him, or the right to visit them. Fathers are often concerned that the judge will favour the children’s mother and that hiring a lawyer to obtain a court order will be far too expensive. Going to court over your children is a last resort, as it is very costly and time-consuming.
If you are a separated father in this situation, the first recourse should be for you to come to an agreement with your partner about the care of your children. If this is not possible, the next step is to enlist the help of a local family mediation service in order to solve the dispute out of court. You must prove that you have considered mediation before you go to court, but this does not apply in some cases – e.g. if there has been domestic abuse. Legal aid is sometimes available to help pay for mediation, whereas it is not available for the court proceedings of private family law cases. You can find out more about the availability of legal aid for family mediation at www.familymediationhelpline.co.uk
Decisions reached with the mediation service are not legally binding, and mediation is not a substitute for legal advice. You will be encouraged to consult a solicitor during the mediation process to advise you on the personal consequences of your decisions.
At the end of mediation, the decisions you have reached can be used as the basis for a divorce settlement, or a legal separation agreement.
An unmarried father doesn’t necessarily have the right to play a role in his child’s future, even though he might be supporting them financially. This right will depend on whether he has “parental responsibility” for the child. Fathers who are named on their child’s birth certificate (if it dates from 2003 or after) do have parental responsibility. Another way to obtain parental responsibility is to ask the court for an order.
If you want your children to live with you, you will need to apply for a residence order. If the children will be living with their mother, you will need to apply for a contact order. This will set out the kind of contact you will have with your children – for example how often you can see them or take them away on holiday. It can be a good idea to apply to the court for both a contact order and a parental responsibility order at the same time, if you don’t already have parental responsibility.
If you are thinking of going to court to deal with arrangements for your children, you should consult an experienced adviser, which you can do for free at a Citizens Advice Bureau, or go to www.adviceguide.org.uk to find out more.