Married and unmarried fathers have the same rights and responsibilities for children as mothers – as long as the child was born after 2004 and the father is named as father on the birth certificate.
Either parent can be the “main carer” and courts take the approach that care should be split equally, if possible.
It is extremely rare in this day and age to come across a judge who will openly say that “living with the mother for most or all of the time is best for the child”.
As an experienced family lawyer I always try to avoid using the term “main carer” because it is unhelpful and can cause dissension if clients pick it up and use it.
Both parents are responsible for their children and the reality of life is that more women than men are likely to give up their jobs and care full time for their offspring.
However, the situation is fluid and subject to constant change, with fathers sometimes taking on the bulk of the care in the following circumstances:
- Following agreement with the child’s mother
- If the situation suits the mother’s shift pattern or career if they are nurses, doctors, fire fighters, etc
- If it is amenable to the child. Older children in particular can gravitate to their father where the rules are often more negotiable!
- Cases where the other parent is unsuitable as a result of drug/alcohol/ child abuse issues
- If social care bodies have recommended it
It is important in every situation for the father to obtain early legal advice.
I once assisted with a case where the mother’s solicitors claimed that the mother was “of course” the main carer by virtue of being mother. In reality both parents worked full time and had a gamut of grandparents and others looking after the children.
The outcome was an equal split of care after a contested hearing. The mother admitted that the children enjoyed spending time with their father but that she missed the child herself and was struggling with her not being at home.
The court confirmed that it is the needs of the children, not the parents, that matter.
My client had been told by his previous lawyers that he wouldn’t achieve shared care. I advised him that he would – with a successful result.
In our modern times of blended families it is important to remember that there are sometimes 2 mothers or 2 fathers. Whatever the situation, it is vital that the focus remains on the child – whose best interests and need to see both parents should always be put first.
Keebles’ partner Vanessa Fox, has been head of the firm’s family law department since 1991.
The latest edition of the Legal 500 Guide praises Vanessa for her ‘broad knowledge of finance and childcare, and for her passion for collaboration; she is efficient, caring and robust’.
Collaboratively trained and a qualified mediator, Vanessa is a former chair of South Yorkshire Resolution and a member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel and the Children Panel.
She can be contacted on 0114 290 6232 or at firstname.lastname@example.org