As a father you want to stay in close touch with your children, even after you and your partner have separated. Obviously, the best and simplest way to do this is an agreement between you and your ex, which can be made legally binding by solicitors. This means it doesn’t have to go through the courts, and will work when relations between the pair of you are amicable.
If you have Parental Responsibility, either by being married to the mother when the child was born, being present when the birth was registered and having your name on the birth certificate as the father, or through a Parental Responsibility Agreement or Parental Responsibility Order, you have rights and responsibilities to your children.
Obviously, part of that is support in financial terms, but also in emotional and legal terms, too. In return, you have contact with your children. Family courts have a principle called “presumption of contact,” under which they have to do everything possible for fathers to see their children.
Very often, court-issued contact orders prove unnecessary, since arrangements will have been worked out privately or in mediation between the two parents. However, even where a Contact Order is issued, often the parents are allowed to work out the details for themselves. Before any Contact Order is issued, however, the court must take several things into consideration:
* What the child wishes, if he or she is old enough to make any kind of decision.
* The educational and emotional needs of the child.
* Whether there’s any risk of harm to the child.
* Whether you’re capable of meeting the child’s needs during contact.
These might seem possibly weighted against you, but the sole intent is for the welfare of the child. In the vast majority of cases – well over 90% - Contact Orders are granted. If it’s come to a hearing, one important factor will be the report by the CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) officer. Both parents, as well as other carers and teachers, will have been interviewed, and in most cases the court accepts the report as it stands (although you can challenge part of it or even ask for a new report from a different officer if you disagree).
A Residence Order determines who the children should live with – if none has been issued, then they’ll stay with their mother. You can apply for a Residence Order to have full custody of your children, but realistically speaking, unless there are pressing reasons they should not stay with their mother, it’s unlikely your request will be granted.
Things Not To Do
When you have contact with the children, you should not attempt to take them out of the country without written permission from their mother. Even if it’s for a holiday, this needs to be discussed and permission in writing given.
Whilst you have the children, don’t say negative things about your ex-partner. It creates confusion and a bad atmosphere for the children. You have more positive things to concentrate on during your time with them, anyway.