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What are my rights as a father following a separation or divorce?
Separating from your partner is a stressful time and the feeling of uncertainty of what happens next can be overwhelming, particularly if you have children and you’re worried about being able to see them.
There is a misconception that the law always favours the mother of a child during a separation, however the majority of the time, the decision as to what’s best for you and your children, lies with you as parents.
Who has parental responsibility after a separation?
In England and Wales, if the mother and father were married at the time of their child’s birth, then they will have automatic joint parental responsibility.
If they were not married at the time of the birth, the father can usually get parental responsibility by;
- Jointly registering the birth of the child with the mother
- Marrying the mother following the birth of the child
- Getting a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
- Getting a parental responsibility order from the court
A Parental Responsibility Order will be valid until the child turns 18.
Other people who can apply for parental responsibility are:
- A Special Guardian
- A Guardian appointed under a parent’s Will if the parents have died and there is no one else alive with parental responsibility
More than two people can have parental responsibility at any one time. It is worth noting that parental responsibility can be taken away if:
- An Adoption or Placement Order is made
- The Court orders the removal of parental responsibility (this is only done in exceptional circumstances).
It is important that during a breakdown in a relationship that any children are put first and that they are not brought into the middle of any disputes. Where possible, it is beneficial to try to work things out together amicably, using a separation agreement or financial agreement to work out the logistics of moving forward. In these situations, seeking the advice of an expert family law specialist is invaluable.
Making child arrangements
Making arrangements for how you will look after your children once you separate will usually help to avoid going to court. The agreement should include:
- Where the children will live
- How much time they’ll spend with each parent
- How you’ll financially support your children
- Working out child maintenance payments, including how and when they will be paid.
This agreement can be made legally binding by a solicitor.
If you are struggling to come to an agreement about your child arrangements, then a mediator may be able to help you without taking sides. Mediation can help you to avoid going to court and the associated fees.
If you can’t come to an agreement between yourselves or through mediation, then the court will issue a Child Arrangement Order that establishes the living arrangements of your children, once you separate.
Making decisions about your child’s upbringing
If you have parental responsibility then you have the legal right to be involved with any major decision about your child’s upbringing, such as where they go to school and what religion they follow. If you cannot come to an agreement about this, then you can apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order or a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent the other parent from making a decision you don’t agree with.
A judge will usually encourage the parents to come to an agreement, but they will always put the welfare of children first. They will consider the child’s emotional, physical and educational needs as well as any possible risk of harm to the child or the effect any changes may have on the child, amongst other things.
For everyday decisions, generally the parent who lives with the child, will make those. This is usually the mother unless an alternative arrangement has been made and they do not need to consult the father when making these decisions. However, collaborating together as parents after separation will help to ensure that both of you will have a say on what you think is appropriate on a day-to-day level, which may include things like, diet, bedtimes and discipline.
Get expert advice on parental rights after separation
When parents decide to separate, it can be a challenging time for children. Reaching an agreement together without the involvement of the courts is the ideal outcome for you and your children. At Crisp & Co, we have extensive knowledge of family law and we can help you make critical decisions swiftly and painlessly to ensure the welfare of your children is protected no matter what.