Child Arrangements  |  Child law  |  Family law

How to legally stop someone from seeing your child in the UK

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Walker Family Law
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It goes without saying that all parents will normally do everything they reasonably can to keep their children safe. And quite often a parent will feel that it would be unsafe for their children to see a particular person. What legal steps can they take to stop that person from seeing their children?

In this article we will look at who can see your child, why a court might stop someone’s contact with a child, how the court decides who can see a child, and other related matters.

In most cases the ‘someone’ will, of course, be the parent with whom the child does not live, and this article will therefore be primarily concerned with the issue of contact between that parent and the child.

Note that what is often still referred to as a ‘contact order’ is technically now a child arrangements order, but for the sake of simplicity we will refer to it here as a contact order.

Who can see your child?

Obviously, a child will come into contact with many people during its life, and there is no restriction upon who they can have contact with, unless a court has ordered otherwise.

But that is not to say that everyone has a legal right to have contact with your child. If you do not agree to them having contact then they will only have such a right if a court has made an order permitting them to have contact with the child.

And this is so even if that person has parental responsibility for the child. Parental responsibility does not include an automatic right to have contact with the child. There are many fathers, for example, who have parental responsibility but do not have contact with their child.

But parental responsibility is still relevant, as clearly a court is more likely to make a contact order in favour of someone who has parental responsibility.

Who has parental responsibility?

And that brings us to our next question: who has parental responsibility for a child?

All mothers will acquire parental responsibility automatically, as will fathers if they are married to the mother.

Unmarried fathers do not acquire parental responsibility automatically, but they will acquire it if they are named as the father on the child’s birth certificate, or if the mother agrees to them having parental responsibility, and a parental responsibility agreement is signed.

Otherwise, anyone seeking parental responsibility will need to acquire it via a court order.

Why a court might stop contact

The starting position for the court in most cases is that contact with both parents and, to a lesser extent, with close relatives such as grandparents, is likely to be a good thing for the child’s welfare.

In fact, there is a statutory presumption that the involvement of both parents in the life of the child will further the child’s welfare, unless the contrary is shown.

So there does really have to be a good reason for the court to stop contact between a parent and their child. Possible examples of such reasons are that the parent has shown no interest in the child, and has had no contact with them for a considerable period of time; and that the parent has been involved in serious criminal activity, such as using Class A drugs, or committing offences against children.

But the most common reason is that that parent has been found to have seriously abused the other parent and/or the child. Domestic abuse is the primary reason why courts order that a parent should have no contact with their child.

Should domestic abusers see their children at all?

As the law stands at present a finding of domestic abuse does not automatically mean that that parent should have no contact with their child, although it will often have a bearing upon the amount and type of contact that should take place.

There are, however, some who believe that there should be an automatic ban on domestic abusers seeing their children.

For example Kate Kniveton MP, who was herself a victim of abuse, has called upon the government to change the law to bring about a presumption of no contact between an abusive parent and their children. Whether such a presumption ever becomes law, we will have to wait and see.

Contact and child support

Often, one parent will want to stop the other parent from seeing their child because the other parent fails to pay child support maintenance for the child.

However, whilst this can be extremely frustrating for the parent with care of the child, failure to pay child support is not of itself normally a sufficient reason for the court to make an order stopping the ‘non-resident’ parent from having contact with the child.

Obviously, the parent with care should take other steps to ensure that the non-resident parent pays the child support.

Stopping contact where there is an order

Where there is already a contact order in favour of the other parent then if the parent with whom the child lives wants to stop the contact they will have to apply to the court to have the contact order varied or stopped entirely.

In such a situation the parent making the application will of course have to show to the court that there has been a change in circumstances since the original contact order was made, such that the contact should stop.

Stopping contact where there is no order

Where there is no contact order in existence the parent with whom the child lives can themselves apply for a child arrangements order, stating that the child should live with them and have no contact with the other parent.

In practice, however, the most common scenario is that the parent with whom the child lives will refuse to allow the other parent to have contact, and the other parent will apply to the court for a contact order. The court will then have to decide whether contact should take place.

Other persons

The question whether or not a court will make a contact order normally relates to someone closely connected with the child, such as a parent or grandparent.

But sometimes the issue relates to whether the child should have contact with someone with whom they are not closely connected, for example where it is considered that such contact may be harmful to the child.

In such circumstances a parent can apply to the court for a prohibited steps order, restricting or prohibiting contact between that person and the child.

How the court decides who can see a child

Whatever decision the court is being asked to make in relation to a child, it will base its decision upon what it considers to be best for the welfare of the child. In so doing, it will have regard in particular to the following matters, referred to as the ‘welfare checklist’:

1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned, considered in the light of the child’s age and understanding. Thus if, for example, an older child expresses a very clear wish that they do not want to have contact with one of their parents then that is a matter to which the court will attach considerable weight, and it may even decide the outcome of the case.

2. The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs.

3. The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances – this can obviously be relevant if the court is asked to stop a parent from seeing the child.

4. The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics of his or hers which the court considers relevant.

5. Any harm which the child has suffered, or is at risk of suffering. This is of course the primary reason why a court may stop someone from seeing the child, as will be seen from the examples of why a court may stop contact mentioned above.

6. How capable each of the parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting the child’s needs.

7. Lastly, the range of powers available to the court, for example ordering that the contact be indirect only (such as via letter, telephone, email, etc.), rather than direct ‘face to face’ contact.

In short, anyone wishing to obtain an order stopping someone from seeing their child will need to persuade the court that that is the best thing to do for the child’s welfare, having regard to these factors.

Get in touch

Stopping someone from seeing your child, particularly the other parent, is a serious step to take, which could obviously have a very significant effect upon your child. And just attempting to stop the other parent from seeing your child could have serious consequences for your relationship with the other parent, which in turn could harm your child.

It is therefore essential that that you seek expert legal advice, before making any attempt to stop someone from seeing your child.

At Walker Family Law we have highly experienced expert family lawyers, who can give you the advice that you require. To get in touch with us, simply fill in the form on this page.

And for more information about child arrangements orders generally and the services we offer, see this page.

Please note that this article sets out the law as it is in England and Wales. The law in other parts of the United Kingdom may differ. You should seek advice from an expert in the law of the particular country concerned.