Can My Partner Stop Me Having Contact with My Children?
There are some situations where one partner can prevent the other from having contact with their children. Although these situations are rare, they exist for the protection of the children. It can sometimes be difficult to know exactly what your rights are as a parent, especially during and after a breakup or divorce, but in almost all circumstances, a mother or father will be able to see and spend time with their child.
What rights do I have to see my child?
Although as a parent you do not have an automatic ‘right’ to see your child, the legal system is in place to ensure that the welfare of the child is always a priority. In the majority of cases, this means the ability to see both of their parents in some form or another.
Decisions surrounding contact with children are based wholly on the concept of what is best for the child’s welfare – and not whether it is better for the parent or not.
The law in the UK was changed in 2014 to stipulate that there is a presumption that the child would be better off if they see both of their parents, and, therefore, contact to children is usually only denied if there is clear evidence that there is a risk of harm to the child. In cases of domestic abuse, the possibility of there being harm caused to the partner can also be considered.
Can the court deny me access to my child?
When there is a breakup, both parents are expected to try to resolve issues with contact with children, amicably. However, there are sometimes cases when a court can deny one parent contact to their child. This is often in more extreme circumstances, often in the case of domestic abuse and criminal activity.
The court can legally deny you contact to your child if, for example, they have concerns over the child’s welfare due to:
- Domestic abuse
- Criminal activity
- Alcohol or drug misuse
- Any other behaviour that is deemed to be inappropriate and putting the child at risk
In extreme cases, one parent can apply for a court order to prevent you from having contact to your child without you being present. This emergency ‘without notice’ order can be put in place if the other parent believes you to be a present danger to your child. If this is the case, another hearing will take place a few days later whereby you will have the opportunity to challenge the decision if you wish to.
What can I do if I am denied access?
If one parent denies the other parent access to their children, the next step in the process depends on the circumstances.
Arrange informal agreement
If you do not have an agreement or you have an ‘informal’ agreement, you should attempt to resolve the dispute amicably. This can include:
- Trying to discuss the arrangements between you in a friendly manner. This is the most preferable solution and easiest for the child.
- Speaking to a family solicitor who can advise you on the best way forward and send a letter to your partner outlining your contact proposals.
- Seeking a family mediator who can help you to resolve the dispute.
If none of these options are successful, you can then consider applying for a child arrangements order.
Apply for a child arrangements order
A child arrangements order is a type of court order that stipulates where a child lives and who they spend time with. It can take time and several visits to the court to obtain a child arrangements order, and there is the possibility that interim decisions are also made. If a court order is breached, this can result in a fine, imprisonment, or community service.
How is contact to my child arranged?
In line with the fact that the focus should always be on the welfare of the child, it is generally agreed that the best way to arrange contact to children is to work it out amicably between the two parents. It is preferable that this is done as quickly as possible as the uncertainty over the future can be very unsettling for a child. Several aspects should be considered when looking at the arrangements for a child, including:
- The child’s wishes and the effect that where they are living and who they are spending their time with has on them
- The child’s needs
- The child’s age and background
- The effect of any change on the child
- How capable the parents are at meeting the child’s needs
It is important to remember that if you can come to this arrangement amicably between yourselves, there is no need for a court order or anyone else to get involved.
What if we can’t agree on contact arrangements?
It is not always the case, however, that these situations can be resolved easily. If this is the situation that you find yourself in, you have three options:
The first step would be to speak to a solicitor that specialises in family matters. They will be able to help you to set out what you would like in terms of child arrangements. A solicitor will be able to explain to you what your options are, as well as give you advice on the best way to resolve your problem.
It is often the case that these disputes can be settled before they go any further through the use of family solicitors.
Mediation involves the use of a family or relationship counsellor to resolve your dispute. Many couples find mediation to be an effective way of doing this even when relationships are a strain between the two of you.
If you are considering taking the matter further and going to court, you will normally need proof that you have first tried mediation as conflict resolution for them to accept it at court. There are, of course, certain circumstances when this is not the case.
If you have still been unable to resolve the matter, you can then begin court proceedings. This allows you to make your case and ensure that the decision is enforceable.