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Richard Perrins Partner Coles Miller

Child Access Rights For Fathers And Mothers12th Dec 2016

Christmas is a very sad time if you are divorced or separated and cannot spend at least one day with your children.

Most parents allow their former partner to see the kids over the festive period. One year it’s Christmas Day; the next year it’s Boxing Day.Child access rights solicitor Richard Perrins, head of the Family Law Department at Coles Miller, Broadstone

But some families are riven by intractable disputes over contact rights. In December the courts swiftly fill up with applications from divorced parents desperate to see their children at Christmas.

Applications tend to centre on child access rights for fathers – because in most (but not all) cases the children will be living with their mother.

Making An Urgent Application To See Your Children

An urgent application may be your best hope if you have left it too late. Or if your former partner suddenly changes their mind about giving you access to your children.

‘Urgent’ is the key word here. The court needs a good reason to consider your case now – and not simply add it to the normal six-week backlog of applications.

This could mean applying for a Specific Issue Order by the court.

Specific Issue Orders usually come into play when parents argue over matters such as change of surname for a child, change of school, medical care, taking the child overseas, religious disputes (such as whether a child should be christened).

But they can also be highly effective in securing contact or visitation rights to see your children at Christmas. It is – after all – a religious holiday.

Prohibited Steps Orders can also achieve the same result – although their role is to stop worrying behavior by a parent (such as repeatedly turning up unannounced at their school). These orders can be made against anyone – whether they are parents or not.

These urgent applications are made under section 8 of the Children Act 1989.

They can be used if a parent exhibits behaviour that threatens the child’s safety: such as violence, alcoholism or drug addiction.

Sadly, this can prompt some parents to make false allegations about their former partners – just to see the children. This makes a bad situation worse and must be handled with caution.

What If My Case Does Not Qualify As Urgent?

Mediation is by far the best way to solve these disputes. It is much faster and cheaper than going to court. You are in control – not the court – so it’s much less stressful.

Look at it this way. You have to agree arrangements at some point. And the sooner that happens, the better it is for all concerned – especially the children.

So try mediation. It works. 

What If Mediation Is Impossible?

Sometimes court is unavoidable. Your former partner may simply refuse to compromise no matter how reasonable you are.

Going to court starts with a First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). Its purpose is to resolve the problem there and then if possible.

But if this is not possible then the FHDRA at least quantifies the problem and determines what happens next.

Some cases can involve CAFCASS – the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. These are the court’s in-house social workers.

They write detailed reports on the children’s welfare and whether they are safe.

These reports carry great weight with the courts. Judges are not bound by CAFCASS recommendations but they tend to follow them closely.

The courts can make Disclosure Orders (compelling the police and social services to share relevant information with them) or in rare cases order psychiatric assessments.

Any disputed allegations will be tested at a Fact Finding Hearing to decide whether they are true or not.

What happens to your children will be determined at a Final Hearing.

The court may appoint a Child Guardian to act as a lawyer specifically for the child – independent of both parents. The cost of this is funded from Legal Aid.

For more information, contact Associate Solicitor and Mediator Richard Perrins, Head of the Family Law Department at Coles Miller, 01202 355698.

This document is not intended to constitute and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice on any specific matter. No liability for the accuracy of the content of this document, or the consequences of relying on it, is assumed by the author. If you seek further information, please contact Managing Partner Neil Andrews at Coles Miller Solicitors LLP.