Attending Families Need Father’s Scotland meetings on a regular basis clearly highlights that there are still issues surrounding father’s involvement with their children post separation in Scotland.
Fathers often feel excluded and secondary to the mother of their children. Some feel like they have no voice in decisions relating to their children’s care and upbringing. Interestingly, sometimes mothers also attend these meetings and report similar concerns. They are however very much in the minority.
Neither parent should be an ‘optional extra’ – they should be recognised and treated as equal partners with each other.
Fathers often feel excluded and secondary to the mother of their children
The law provides for parents to have Parental rights and responsibilities. Mothers automatically have parental rights and responsibilities. Fathers will have parental rights and responsibilities if they were married to the mother of the child at the date of conception or else subsequently. Unmarried fathers will have parental rights and responsibilities if they are named on the child’s birth certificate as the father and the birth was registered after 4 May 2006.
If, as a father, you don’t have parental rights and responsibilities then you can either enter into a written agreement with the child’s mother that you will have parental rights and responsibilities or else you can apply to the court for an award to be made. The court will grant parental rights and responsibilities if it is in the best interests of the child.
What does having parental rights and responsibilities mean?
Parental responsibilities are what parents are expected to do. Parents are expected:
- to look after their children and promote their health, development and welfare
- to advise them and help them make good decisions
- to stay in touch and be involved with their children, if they are not living together
- to take their place as a legal representative
Parental rights are what parents are allowed to do. Parental rights are:
- to have the child living with them or else to regulate where the child lives
- to say how their children should be brought up
- to maintain relations and contact with the child, if they are not living together
- to act as the child’s legal representative
There is a clear overlap between parental responsibilities and parental rights. The rights are there to enable a parent to properly fulfil their responsibilities.
If you have parental rights and responsibilities then you should play an active and full part in your child’s life. Very often however, the parent who cares for the child for the majority of the time will make decisions as and when they arise.
What can you do if you feel like you are being excluded?
- Be proactive. Don’t wait for your ex-partner to share information with you. If you have parental rights and responsibilities then you can speak to your child’s school and obtain information directly from them. You can ask for copies of reports and attend parents’ night. You can also speak to your child’s GP or any other medical professionals and organisations that they may be involved with.
- Prioritise your child. Try to ensure that you continue to have consistent, quality time with your child. Let them know that you are there for them and consider how best to take account of their thoughts and feelings. Don’t put them in the centre of any conflict or acrimony between you and your ex-partner. Having a strong relationship with your child will make it easier for you to be more involved in their wellbeing and upbringing and more difficult for your ex-partner to exclude you.
- Seek support. Friends and family members can all offer support and assistance as can counsellors and other health professionals. Don’t be afraid to ask for and take the support and guidance that they offer. Groups like Families Need Fathers can also be hugely helpful not only for the support and guidance that they offer but also to know that you are not the only one in your situation.
- Communicate. Communication is often key to having a continuing relationship between children and both of their parents. It may be that you are able to speak directly with your ex-partner about your concerns. If that is not possible then you could consider mediation or collaboration as an alternative way to improve communication, minimise your conflict and put your children first. You could also instruct a solicitor to communicate with your ex-partner or else their lawyer on your behalf.
- Instruct a specialist family law solicitor. It can be hugely challenging to deal with an ex-partner who is evasive and minimising your role in your child’s life. It may be that litigation is therefore necessary to regulate the care arrangements for your child. Having a specialist family lawyer who understands your position and is able to offer creative and inventive solutions can be invaluable.
Please contact us to discuss further.
Alan (not his real name) split up with his wife when the children were 4 and 6. Although he had contact with them for the first year, this stopped after a dispute about money. The case was in court for a long time. The children refused to see Alan because of what their mother had said to them. Alan started coming to the Edinburgh FNF meeting because his new partner was worried about the strain the court action was having on him. At the first meeting he realised that other fathers in the group were facing similar or worse situations, but also that others succeed eventually. He attended monthly and could also ring up group members at times when he was feeling desperate. From other people he learnt how best to respond to allegations made by his ex-wife and the advantages of staying calm when in court. Two years on there was a “doors of court” reconciliation when his ex-wife realised that the court was going to restore Alan’s contact. He saw his children again and now he and his new partner remain on civil terms with his ex-wife, despite all the past aggravation. He now has a new wife and family, and also has a significant role in the life of the children in his first family.