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Child Contact Disputes
Arrangements to see a child (formerly called visitation and contact rights or access rights) are concerned with the rights of the child to see and spend time with the parent who is not the primary care-giver (the non-resident parent) or a third party. Along with child residence arrangements, arrangements to see a child should be agreed or determined as part of the divorce or separation process.
If the parents fail to reach a mutual agreement about arrangements to see a child, collaborative law may help them to resolve their differences. If they still can’t reach an amicable arrangement, the decision will be made by the courts.
Ideally, the child’s parents will agree between them the hours and days when the non-resident parent can spend time with their son or daughter. However, if the parents cannot agree a timetable between them, a family court judge will draw up a schedule for when the child can see the non-resident parent. A contact schedule will usually set out visitation periods for the non-resident parent on weekends or alternate weekends, vacations and during school summer holidays.
In some circumstances arrangements to see a child may be granted subject to special restrictions. These include:
- Restricted contact – the non-resident parent’s visitation may be restricted for reasons such as the child’s age, medical conditions (either the child’s or non-resident parent’s), because the non-resident parent is confined to an institution, for example, due to mental illness or because of issues arising from domestic violence.
- Supervised contact – generally speaking a court will order supervised contact if the parent poses a danger to the child. This type of contact involves the parent spending time with the child in the presence of a third-party supervisor.
- Overnight contact – if there are legitimate concerns over allowing overnight visitation with the non-resident parent, a court may choose to prohibit this type of visit.
When can a parent be denied contact?
The non-resident parent will usually be able to have the opportunity to see their child unless granting contact is deemed not to be in the child’s best interests. The best interests of the child are the court’s primary concern. A parent may be denied such contact because, for example:
- They have a history of alcohol or drug abuse.
- There is evidence of domestic violence or abuse committed against the child, a sibling or the other parent.
Can contact be changed?
Yes. If either parent feels the existing contact rights are unsuitable or inefficient, they can request to change those rights via a family court. We can provide you with advice and assistance with starting such an action.
Parental responsibility refers to the legal rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority for a child and their property. Parental responsibility gives the parent the right to make decisions about the child’s care and upbringing.
When a married couple separates or divorces, both parties have parental responsibility for any children born to that marriage. If the couple is unmarried, only the mother has automatic parental rights. However, the father will have parental rights (and thereby a legal right to see his child) if the child was born on or after 1 December 2003 and he is named on the birth certificate or if both parents have signed a parental responsibility agreement. A court can also grant parental responsibility to the father.
In addition, it is possible for step parents to acquire parental responsibility either by agreement or a court order.
In any case, the non-resident biological or adoptive parent is equally responsible for the financial welfare of his children and the Child Maintenance Service, a government agency responsible for calculating and collecting child maintenance, may facilitate this contribution. (Please note that the Child Support Agency, or CSA, may handle older cases and is expected to stay in operation until 2017.) Find out more about child support and maintenance.
The law in England and Wales states that consent of both parents with parental responsibility (and anyone else with parental responsibility) is required before certain steps are taken, such as changing a child’s name, emigration, circumcision or sterilisation. Only those with parental responsibility (see above) can give parental consent.
Two key points to bear in mind about medical consent are:
- A court can overrule a decision by a parent to refuse medical consent if the treatment is thought to be in the child’s best interests.
- Provided one parent with parental responsibility gives consent for treatment, the healthcare professionals can proceed with treatment, even if the other parent has declined to give consent.
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