Separation and Contact Rights
Contact rights are a part of the separation process when there are children involved. Ideally, couples should try to reach an agreement about contact and residency before they initiate the divorce process.
However, the bitterness associated with the separation is often so immense that couples are unable to reach a mutual consensus about any of the important issues. In such cases, a court officer may be appointed to recommend a decision to the court or help the couple.
Reach a Mutual Consensus
Children are very vulnerable during a separation or divorce. Therefore, it is every parent’s responsibility to minimise the stress and anxiety in their children’s’ lives.
If you and your partner have decided to separate, you need to ensure that you explore all the options available to you with your partner so that your children’s lives are disrupted to the least possible extent.
Often, when couples are unable to reach an agreement on their own, seeking the help of a professional mediator proves to be helpful. Mediators are able to help the couples discuss the issues related to their separation in a productive manner. If the couples deviate from the subject to mindless blame games, a mediator is able to help the couple get back on track and focus on the real issues.
It usually takes a couple three to five sessions to agree on common terms after which, a couple can produce a separation agreement. Mediation can result in establishing a successful mutual agreement.
Contact Rights- Legal Aspects
According to UK law, when a couple separates, they both have parental responsibility towards their children. If a couple is unmarried and they have a child, only the mother has automatic rights towards the child and a father does not have an automatic say in the matters regarding the child’s life.
Since 2002, an unmarried dad can have parental rights towards the child if he registers the birth of the child along with the mother.
Parental responsibility can also be acquired if both the partners sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement. However, it is important to understand that fathers can be contacted by the Child Support Agency for financial support, if required. Deductions are usually made from the father’s pay depending on how much time the father spends with the children.
The Court Procedure
Courts encourage couples to come up with an agreement on their own. It is only when couples are unable to do so that they make an order.
Firstly, the court will arrange for a conciliation appointment between you and your partner to ensure that you agree on the terms of contact, payments and residency. If this meeting does not lead to an agreement, they will arrange for you to see a CAFCASS officer.
If you and your partner are unable to reach an agreement even after that, the CAFCASS officer will take a statement from each of you and make a recommendation to the court.
Since the CAFCASS officer’s recommendation holds a lot of importance in the court, it would be best to cooperate with the officer. At the end of the process, either one or both the partners will be awarded a residency order. One of the partners might receive a contact order, which gives details about the contact rights.
Some Factors that Influence Court’s Decision
- Child’s wishes and feelings. The older the child, the more the consideration toward their feelings.
- Your child’s emotional, physical, and educational needs.
- Court’s primary concern is to minimise the disturbance caused to the children during the process. Therefore, the court is likely to accept an arrangement that only minimally disturbs a child’s current living arrangement.
- If your child’s safety is a concern or if he or she has special needs.
- Parents’ capability of taking care of the child. If the court feels that one of the partners is not capable of taking care of the child, the custody will be awarded to the other parent.