Can my ex stop me from seeing my kids?

If and your partner are separated or divorced, they may try to prevent you from seeing or having contact with your child. There are steps you can take to prevent this.

Please note: this article describes the legal position in England and Wales, and not all of the information applies to Scotland or Northern Ireland.

If you break up with your child’s other parent, ideally, he or she can continue to see both parents regularly and you will reach a mutual agreement on who they should live with. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, and you may find yourself in a situation where your ex-partner stops you seeing your child.  If so, what can you do about it?

Your ex generally cannot stop you from seeing your child unless a court decides that there would be a risk of harm to them.  This might not help, however, if your child is too young to make their own decisions about seeing you, but court action should generally be treated as a last resort. It is expensive and can create more bad feeling between you and your ex.

CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) may be able to assist you.  They can help you make a Parenting Plan, allowing both you and your ex to agree times for contact. This plan might involve overnight stays, or meeting for a certain time each week. If you are left with no choice but to go to court, you will usually be expected to have tried a Parenting Plan first.

A Parenting Plan can also help more generally with matters relating to your child’s education and healthcare. Under the Children Act 1989, if you have parental responsibility, then you have the right to a say in these matters. A child’s mother automatically has parental responsibility, and a father usually will. However, parental responsibility does not automatically mean that you have a right to see your child.

If your ex will not cooperate with a Parenting Plan, another option is to get a solicitor to write a letter setting out your contact proposals, and negotiate with your ex. This will make it clear that you are treating the matter seriously and are prepared to pursue all avenues.

Alternatively, a family mediator may be able to help you reach access arrangements with your ex (although if there has been domestic violence or other abuse in the past, mediation is usually not suitable). A mediator is a person trained to help reach an agreement by talking with both parents. A mediation agreement has no legal force, but a solicitor can help you apply to court to make it legally binding. Legal aid to use a solicitor for family law matters is only available in very limited cases, so you will probably need to carefully consider the costs of using a solicitor.

If other methods are unsuccessful, you can apply to court for a child arrangements order. These replaced residence orders and contact orders; if you already have one of these older orders, you do not need to re-apply. A child arrangements order will set out how often you can see your child, and where.

The welfare of your child will be the court’s main concern. The court will not grant an order in your favour unless doing so would be better for the child than making no order at all. However, courts view a child’s contact with their natural parents as important and will usually only refuse access completely if they believe there is a possible risk of harm to the child.

Court action does not guarantee the outcome you may be hoping for. While courts will often decide that your child should stay with you for part of the time, or spend a certain amount of time with you each week, in some cases they will allow only indirect contact such as phone calls.

Adam Rivers

Adam creates supportive, easy to read guides for The Law Superstore. He specialises in family law, helping people through divorce, child custody arrangements, and other relationship issues.

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