When a child is born, the mother and the father automatically have parental responsibility (if they are married or named on the birth certificate).
However, parental responsibility does not give an automatic right to contact. Contact between a child and the parent that they don’t live with is now known in terms of a court order as a ‘time with’ Order.
Contact is the right of the child, not of the parent or any other person. There is an expectation in law that where parents have separated, the parent that the child lives with allows a reasonable amount of contact time with the other parent.
Whether or not the child's parents were married has no bearing on the level of time spent with the child after a separation.
Do I have to let the child’s other parent have contact with them? And how much?
Simon Immins, an Associate and experienced Family Law Solicitor at Frettens says “Parents should work together to agree on contact arrangements which are in the child's best interests. There is no legal definition as to what amounts to reasonable contact; it will depend on the individual family and their circumstances."
Simon continues “If there is a court order in place relating to time with, this will state the days and times that contact should take place. This must be followed.”
Can I just stop contact?
Contact should only be refused where there is very good reason for doing so, for instance if there is genuinely concern for the safety of a child. Refusal to allow a parent to have contact may result in them making an application to court.
If contact is refused, and the non-resident parent takes the case to court, the resident parent will have to explain why contact was stopped.
If there is already a court order in place for contact/time with, you may be in breach of the order by refusing contact. To avoid this, an application should be made for a variation of the existing contact/time with where there are valid reasons for concern.
What if a parent does not comply with the order?
A court order is legally binding. Failure to comply with it amounts to contempt of court. A person can be committed to prison for contempt, though this is a last resort, but the court do have the power to impose this under the Children and Adoption Act 2006. The Children and Adoption Act 2006 also introduced new powers for the courts in enforcing contact arrangements, which includes the power to order an unpaid work requirement, compensation for financial loss and to discharge a residence order/live with order.
It is not possible to force a non-resident parent to take up contact and a parent cannot be held in contempt for simply failing to take up the contact given.
If a non-resident parent is failing to take up contact granted by a time with order, it is best to think about what is in the child's best interests before making an application for enforcement of the order. If a time with order is in place, there is the potential to take the matter back to court by making an application to discharge the order.
Our Family Team are happy to discuss any issues that this raises for you and we offer a free initial meeting or chat on the phone.
If you have any questions, you only have to ask us at Frettens. Please call 01202 499255 or 01425 610100 and Simon or a member of the team will be happy to chat about your situation and your particular requirements.