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We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

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Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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Fathers spending time with their child when they do not live with them

How a child spends time with each of their parents is usually arranged between the parents themselves. But sometimes parents can’t agree, and they need help to reach an agreement. The FAQs on this page aim to provide helpful information and advice for fathers in this situation.

Fathers who are looking for advice because about seeing their children where there are concerns about domestic abuse may also want to look at our Domestic abuse page.  Fathers looking for information about spending time with children who are looked after in the care system can go to the Fathers of children looked after in the care system section.

How can a father arrange to spend time with his child?

Family mediation can be a good way to resolve difficulties about contact. This is where an independent person helps parents reach agreement about what is best for their child. For more information about family mediation see  The Family Mediation Council website.

A child arrangements order is an order the Family Court can make to say who a child should spend time with. If parents cannot agree, a father could apply for this order. Before the court will deal with an application for this order, the father will have to show that he has already tried mediation.

But there are situations where a father does not have to go to mediation first. An example is where there has been domestic abuse. This is because mediation is usually not suitable where there has been domestic abuse.  Open or download this table which explains the situations when a father (or other family member) will not have to go to mediation before making an application. These situations are known as mediation exemptions. Evidence is required to show that an exemption applies.

For information about how to seek legal advice about this see our Fathers needing legal advice about spending time with their child section on this page.

If children’s services are involved under a child protection process, they may be advising the mother (or other carer) how often their child should see their father. For more information about how to arrange contact when social workers are involved with a child in this way, see our Fathers and the child protection process.

How can a family mediator help parents agree contact arrangements?

A family mediator is an independent person. They are trained to help parents reach agreement about issues such as child contact. Family mediation is voluntary. This means it can only happen if both parents agree to take part.

The mediator:

  • Will not take sides with either parent
  • Keep the discussion focused on what will best meet the child’s future needs
  • Might also talk to an older child to find out what they think. The child’s views can help inform the discussions.

An agreement reached with the help of a mediator is not legally binding. But there is an expectation that both sides will keep to it.  And parents can take an agreement reached in mediation to the Family Court. They can ask the court to make a consent order which reflects what is in the agreement.

Depending on their income, parents may be entitled to legal aid to cover the costs of mediation. Find out more about family mediation from the Family Mediation Council here.

Can a father have contact with his child if the child’s social worker does not agree?

This depends on:

  • The situation and the way in which children’s services are involved
  • Whether there is any court order in place that gives children’s services the right to decide about contact.

It is very important for a father to understand the precise situation before taking any action.

First steps fathers in this situation can take:

  • Check with the social worker to find out whether there is any court order in place giving them the power to decide what contact takes place
  • If there is a court order, ask for a copy of it
  • And ask the social worker to explain what it means.

If there is no court order in place, the contact arrangements can be decided between the father and the mother. But if children’s services are worried about the child, they may be advising the mother about what contact to allow.

The next step a father can take is then to:

  • Write to the social worker explaining when he would like to see his child, and if the social worker does not agree
  • Ask the social worker to explain in writing these things:
    • Why they think that contact with the father is not in the child’s best interests
    • What he can do to change the situation
    • Whether there is a location or arrangement in which contact could take place safely
    • Whether anyone in the family or an outside agency could help with contact arrangements.

If there is no agreement, the father could apply to the Family court for an order about contact. This is called a ‘lives with’ child arrangements order. This order says who the child should spend time with.

How will the Family Court make a decision if the father applies for a child arrangements order?

The court may ask the social worker to write a report for the court. This is caked a section 7 report. It will be about what contact they think is in the best interests of the child (see section 7 of the Children Act 1989). It will be part of the evidence that the court will use to reach a decision about what the right contact arrangements for the child are.

When the Family Court makes any decision relating to a child, the child’s welfare must always be the court’s ‘paramount consideration’. This is known as the welfare principle. Or the paramountcy principle.  It means the court needs to think what is in the child’s best interests when it makes decisions (see section 1 (1) of the Children Act 1989. This all applies where the court is deciding an application for a parental responsibility order.

To help work out what is in a child’s best interests, the court must use the welfare checklist. This is set out at section 1 (3) of the Children Act 1989.  Read more about welfare checklist here.

And when the Family court is deciding the application, the court must presume the involvement of the father in the child’s life is a good for the child (‘will further their welfare’) unless:

  • there is evidence to suggest involvement with the child would put the child at risk of suffering harm
  • and this would be the case, whatever the form of the involvement.

The law about parental involvement is found in section 1(2A) of the Children Act 1989.

For information about how to seek legal advice about this see the Fathers needing legal advice about spending time with their child on this page below.

What if children’s services suspect contact may put the child at risk of significant harm?

If the social worker is saying children’s services suspect contact with the father may put the child at risk of significant harm, children’s services should start child protection enquiries. This is because they must investigate if they suspect a child has suffered significant harm. Or if they suspect a child is likely to.

If this happens then contact arrangements between the father and his child should be looked at as part of those enquiries. For further information on how a father can be involved in child protection enquiries see the frequently asked questions under our Fathers and the child protection process section.

Can a non-biological father have contact with his ex-partner’s child?

An ex-partner is not normally classed as a parent under the Children Act 1989. But and ex-partner may have had a significant relationship with the child. That relationship may be important to the child. Sometimes maintaining that relationship will be in the child’s best interests.

To arrange contact with the child, the steps need include:

To apply for this Family Court order an ex-partner will need the court’s permission. This is as seeking the leave of the court.

For information about how to seek legal advice about this see our Fathers needing legal advice about spending time with their child on this page below.

What can a father do if he is worried about the way his child is cared for by their mother or her partner?

If possible, the father should first talk about this with the child’s mother. He should explain his concerns.  And try to keep the discussion about the child. Trying not to let the feelings between the adults get in the way is important.

Talking it through

Different parents may have different parenting styles. It is important that the father is clear as to why he is worried. Would the situation improve if the child or mother had more support? Are there things the father could do which would help? Does he think the child may be harmed in any way? Why?

Mediation

If it is difficult to discuss matters with the child’s mother, the parents may find it easier to try family mediation. A family mediator is an independent person. They are trained to help parents reach agreement about issues such as child contact. Family mediation is voluntary. This means it can only happen if both parents agree to take part.

The mediator:

  • Will not take sides with either person
  • Will keep the discussion focused on what will best meet the child’s future needs
  • Might also talk to an older child to find out what they think. The child’s views can help inform the discussions.

An agreement reached with the help of a mediator is not legally binding. But there is an expectation that both sides will keep to it.  The Family Court can be asked to make a consent order based on what the agreement says. Depending on their income, parents and others may be entitled to legal aid to cover the costs of mediation. Find out more about family mediation from the Family Mediation Council here.

Raising concerns if a father is worried his child is not being kept safe

Sometimes fathers can feel very worried that their child is not being kept safe. In this situation they can approach children’s services with their concerns. When children’s services departments receive this kind of information about a child it is called a referral.  Anyone can make a referral. So, a referral may come from a member of the public or a family member. It can come from a practitioner involved with the family or child. This could be a midwife or a GP for example.

What a father wants to share with children’s services can be put in writing in a letter or email.

What information may a father want to include for children’s services?

  • A clear list of the main concerns. Try to give details about specific incidents that have happens. Numbering each concern can help to keep things clear
  • Details of anything he feels needs to change
  • A request for a written response to the letter/email.

Keeping a copy of the letter or email sent is a good idea.

How should children’s services respond to a referral?

When they receive a referral, children’s services should decide certain things within one working day (see Working Together to Safeguard Children at page 33, paragraph 78).

These things are:

  • Whether to start an assessment
  • And if so, what type. This could be a:

They should tell the person who made the referral that they have received it and what action they are planning to take.  This means that a father contacting children’s services should receive these details. Children’s services should say what they plan to do.

Whatever action they take, the father should be involved in the process.

If children’s services do not take any action, then keeping a note of further concerns can be a good idea.  This is then available if there is a need to contact children’s services again.

Can a father apply for a Family Court order if worried his child is not being kept safe?

Another option for a father in this situation is to apply to the Family Court for an order that the child live with him. This is called a ‘lives with’ child arrangements order (see section 8 Children Act 1989). The court may ask the social worker to write a report for the court about what living arrangements are in the child’s best interests of the child (see section 7 Children Act 1989). This is called a section 7 report.

To seek legal advice in relation to lives with child arrangements order fathers can:

  • Post a question on our Parents Forum and receive advice from one of Family Rights Group’s expert advisers if children’s services are involved
  • If needing further or more detailed advice, call Family Rights Group’s specialist legal and practice advice line on 0808 801 0366 (the advice line is open Monday to Friday, from 9.30 am to 3 pm excluding bank holidays)
  • Take legal advice from a solicitor. Find a solicitor who is a specialist in children law. Or who has Children Law Accreditation. To find a solicitor, search using the ‘how to find a solicitor’ function on the Law Society website. See our Working with a solicitor guide on our Top tips and templates page for more information about finding and working with a solicitor.

And in situations not involving children’s services, fathers:

Seeking legal advice in relation to spending time with a child not involved with children’s services

Fathers in this situation can:

Seeking legal advice in relation to spending time with their children when children’s services are, or may become, involved

Fathers in this situation can:

  • Post a question on our Parents Forum and receive advice from one of Family Rights Group’s expert advisers
  • If needing further or more detailed advice, call Family Rights Group’s specialist legal and practice advice line on 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday, from 9.30 am to 3 pm excluding bank holidays)
  • Take legal advice from a solicitor. Find a solicitor who is a specialist in children law. Or who has Children Law Accreditation  .To find a solicitor, search using the ‘how to find a solicitor’ function on the Law Society website. See our Working with a solicitor guide on our Top tips and templates page for more information about finding and working with a solicitor.
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