Can you ever force a parent to be a parent?


Can you actually force a parent to ‘be’ a parent when they decide that the role isn’t for them? We look at the legal side of this debate.

A difficult family situation

​As a family law solicitor I am often consulted by parents, usually fathers (and so for the purposes of this article I will assume that is the situation), who are determined to continue to be a big part of their child’s life despite splitting from the child’s mother.

Those fathers that I meet that find themselves in that situation are keen to spend as much time as possible with their child and would not want to ever miss an important occasion such as a Birthday, Christmas or Holidays.

Those fathers are so dedicated to their child that if suitable arrangements cannot be agreed between them and their ex-partner they will engage the services of someone like myself and embark on what is sometimes a long and expensive process through the courts to ensure that they remain a constant and important part of their child’s life.

But what if the father is not like the usual father described above and does not want to spend time with, or be involved in their child’s life or perhaps does not want to be as involved as the mother would like them to be? What happens then, how can the mother force the father to be involved? How does the law work for children in that situation?

The legal stance

There is nothing in law which can force a parent to be involved or more involved in their child’s life if they choose not to be.

The right to spend time with a parent is the child’s right, not the parents’, but if the parent does not want to spend time with their child then that child’s right is lost.

How can the court or anyone else force a parent to spend time with their child? Simply, they cannot. Sadly, if a parent decides that they do not want to be involved in their child’s life or does not want to spend regular, quality time with their child there is no way to force them to do so.

A child has a right to spend time with both parents and if one parent is trying to prevent the other from spending time with the child then that parent would be able to rely on the law to determine whether or not it is in the child’s best interest to spend time with them. The importance of children having relationships with each parent following separation was reinforced by the Children and Families Act 2014. The court can, upon application of a parent, make orders relating to the living arrangements of a child and when, where and by what means that child will spend time with the other parent.

The frequency and amount of time a child will spend with each parent will differ from family to family. There is no formula to calculate what amount of time is suitable and there is no precedent as to what a child arrangements order will look like, it will depend on the individual family and their circumstances. Equally, there is no legal definition as to what would amount to a reasonable amount of time. Some parents spend an equal amount of time with their child, some parents split their time between weekdays and weekends or every other weekends. There is no right or wrong, it is whatever works best for the child.

More information

If you would like to know about the issues discussed in this article, please contact the Family Team at Pinney Talfourd.
This article was written by Kiren Dhillon, Senior Associate in the Family Law Team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of January 2020.


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