One of the most emotive topics after a separation or divorce is whether the children should live with their mother or father. Other key questions are whether the care of the children should be shared equally, and if the children are going to live with their mother, how often can the father see his child or children. In this blog, children law solicitor Louise Halford examines the law on child contact after a separation or divorce and answers your question ‘how often can a father see his child?’
Do children always stay with their mothers after a separation or divorce?
It used to be the case that after a separation or divorce most children lived with their mother and the father had contact. In many families that remains the position. However, instead of it always being assumed that a child will live with their mother nowadays all options are on the table, including the child living with his or her father and the child having contact with the mother or a shared care arrangement.
It isn’t so much that the law has changed but societal attitudes and working practices have changed. For a long time, the court has focussed on what children law order is in the best interests of the child when determining child custody and contact applications.
When, in the past, a father traditionally went out to work and the mother was a housewife or worked part-time, it was often thought best that a child should continue to live with the primary care giver or the parent who was available to meet their day-to-day needs. With both parents now often working full-time or with a father being able to work from home, the best interests of the child may be best served by the child living with their father or a shared care arrangement.
Is a father entitled to shared care if he wants to co-parent his child after a separation or divorce?
Although much is written in the media about shared parenting being the norm or ideal, neither a mother or father is ‘entitled’ to share the care of their child after a separation or divorce. That’s because if parents can’t agree on the childcare arrangements for their child and the court is asked to make a child arrangement order, the court will assess what order is in the child’s best interests.
Shared care (whether that is an exactly equal split of time or a sixty-forty split of time or other percentage) may be the best option for the child but not necessarily. For example, shared care may not be likely to work if:
- Parents don’t live, or are not intending to live, relatively close to one another to ensure that the child is able to get to school from both homes.
- The child prefers to have one home base, rather than moving between homes.
- One parent’s work commitments mean that if parenting was shared the reality is that the child would be looked after during that parent’s parenting time by professional carers or through use of school clubs.
- The parents don’t get on at all and won’t cooperate over parenting, making frequent handovers for the child disruptive and distressing.
Shared care can be the ideal but it isn’t practical for every family and therefore it is not in the best interests of every child whose parents separate or divorce. When looking at childcare arrangements it is best not to think of ‘entitlement’ but what arrangements are likely to meet your child’s needs.
Most children experts say that spending an equal amount of time with a child isn’t the key to successful parenting but ensuring that the time you do spend with your children is ‘quality ’ time. For time to be quality time it doesn’t have to be expensive outings, but being able to set aside time to read with younger children, help with homework, or transport to football practice or ballet club or just talking and taking an interest in what your children are doing at school or when they are with their other parent.
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How often can a father see his child?
Fathers often want to know the worst-case and best-case scenarios of how often they will be able to see their child after a separation or divorce. So much depends on your personal circumstances. For example, contact will be restricted if a mother successfully applies for a relocation order to enable her to move overseas with the child or contact will be more limited if a father has to move to a new area in the UK because of his work commitments.
Many parents agree to split the week so children get to spend a roughly equal amount of time with each parent. For other families, the better option is for a child to live with one parent during the week and have midweek and alternate weekend contact. Contact with the child every weekend would mean that the residential parent of a school age child would not get to spend any quality time with the child.
There is therefore no set rule about how often a father can see his child. That can be frustrating for some fathers who want certainty after a separation or divorce but not having set rules means that parents can work out what child contact arrangements or co-parenting works best for their family or the court can be asked to make a child arrangement order after assessing what is best for your child rather than following a fixed formula.
We are Manchester and Cheshire Children Law Solicitors
If you need help with your separation or divorce or representation in a child arrangements order application call us or complete our online enquiry form. Evolve Family Law offices are in Whitefield, North Manchester and Holmes Chapel, Cheshire but our children law solicitors offer meetings by telephone appointment or video call.