Can a Mother Stop a Father From Seeing Their Child?
Family law primarily exists to protect the welfare of the child. The presumption at law is that both parents’ involvement with their child is good for the child’s welfare unless that involvement will put the child at risk of harm (ss 1(2A) & 1(6) Children Act 1989).
This means that legally, neither parent has any rights to prevent the other from seeing a child, except where there are safeguarding concerns, or where the welfare of the child may be compromised. As such, unless there are concerns for a child’s welfare, contact with both parents is actively encouraged by the law. Problems can arise however where the parents disagree on access with the child, or where access to the child is prevented completely.
When can contact be restricted?
Either parent may restrict access where there is a risk to the child’s welfare; however, they must be able to show this in court should the other parent object to the restriction.
A parent can restrict access in a variety of ways including:
- Where the other parent feels your environment will put the child at risk of harm
- How long you can see them (whether or not they can stay over etc.)
- When you can see them
- How you see them (i.e. supervised contact, contact centre etc.)
- Whether you can see them at all
A parent can restrict access if the child is at risk of exposure to circumstances or behaviour that presents a safeguarding issue. This can include concerns such as:
- Criminal behaviour
What can I do if my child’s mother stops me from seeing my child?
If the child’s mother prevents access and you cannot resolve the issue together, take legal advice from a family solicitor. There are a number of actions potentially available to you if your ex-partner stops you seeing your child.
A solicitor will help guide you on your rights and will correspond with your ex-partner on your behalf to try to come to some arrangement. If agreement is not possible, you may wish to find recourse via the courts, and apply for a contact order.
Before a court will accept an application, in most cases the suitability of mediation to your situation must have been considered, and the parent applying to the court must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
What is mediation?
Mediation is a way for you to resolve your disagreements regarding contact with your child without having to go through the courts.
If it is possible to resolve the issue this way, then mediation can help you communicate and put together an agreement.
If mediation is not suitable, or the party restricting access refuses, you can apply to the courts for a resolution; however, you must first have attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
What is a MIAM?
A Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting is mandatory before applying to the court for a contact order. Both parents should attend the MIAM. However, this does not need to be at the same time.
The session will talk you through how mediation works, and whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances. If it is suitable and everyone agrees, mediation sessions are then organised for you to arrange contact that way.
If it is not suitable, or the other parent refuses to attend mediation, you can then apply to the courts for a Child Arrangements Order to request contact.
You will need to provide the paperwork from the MIAM to prove to the courts that mediation was considered.
How much does it cost?
Fees for a MIAM session can vary depending on the mediators you use; however, you may be eligible to apply for legal aid if you are on a low income.
Although mediation is not free, it may be significantly cheaper than applying for a Child Arrangements Order.
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangements Order replaces contact orders and sets out access arrangements for seeing children. It will determine how much time each parent gets with the child and sets out rules for other types of contact such as phone calls.
How do I apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
Those with parental responsibility can apply for a Child Arrangements Order using Form C100. The court will then arrange a directions hearing to decide based on your circumstances whether;
- You are able to agree together without an order being made
- You should go back to mediation
- You should both attend a Separated Parents Information Programme course
Where there are concerns over the child’s welfare, or it suits the best interests of the child, the court will issue an order instead.
What if there are concerns over the child’s welfare?
If one parent feels that the child’s welfare will be compromised, or that the child will be at risk of harm by having contact with the other parent, they must complete supplemental forms C1 and C1A together with the Child Arrangements Order application detailing their reasons.
How much does it cost?
It costs £215 to apply for a Child Arrangements Order, however, as with mediation, those on a low income may be eligible for legal aid.
What if my ex-partner is not sticking to the order?
If your ex-partner is not adhering to the order, you can apply to the court to enforce it which costs an additional £215. If the court finds that the other party has not followed the order without good reason, they can enforce it by either:
- Making the breaching party carry out between 40-200 hours of unpaid work; or
- Ordering them to pay compensation for financial loss the other party suffered due to the breach
In situations where a mother stops a father from seeing his child, it is important for both parties to know their legal rights for it to be resolved in the best way possible for the child.
Why legal advice helps
If you have been prevented access, take legal advice as soon as possible.
Dealing with contact disputes can become very complex, with several forms that need completing and the potential for lengthy court proceedings. If there are safeguarding concerns, it is even more important to clarify your legal position without delay.