What Are The Visitation Rights Of Fathers?

The term “visitation rights” is popular because it is used in television and movies, however, the term technically does not exist in English law. The Children Act 1989 instead refers to parents “spending time with” children. Nonetheless The term “visitation” will be used here to mean “spending time with.” 

If you are looking to gain visitation rights as a father, you will know that the process can be challenging. As a general principle, the law does not confer any special status on mothers.  Both parents normally have parental responsibility and, under section 1(2A) of the Children Act 1989, there is a presumption that the involvement of a parent (i.e. including a father) in a child’s life is in the child’s best interests, unless the contrary is shown. In practice, however, this is often not the way that events unfold. So where can you begin when pursuing visitation rights as a father? We need to start by defining the exact visitation rights for fathers in the UK.

Domestic abuse allegations?

A parent can usually only be kept from seeing their child if they present a risk to the child. A risk is usually deemed to exist where there is evidence of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse must be proven before visitation rights are permanently affected; however, the procedure of the family court can be draconian. Practice Direction 12J of the Family Procedure Rules provides that where an allegation of domestic abuse is made, the court must  “consider the nature of any allegation, admission or evidence of domestic abuse” before making an order for contact. This rule can make it difficult for a parent accused of domestic abuse to gain interim contact (contact during the proceedings, before the court’s final decision).   

In the same way that the law does not confer a special status on mothers, it does not confer an adverse status on fathers. In theory, either parent can be accused of domestic abuse and often fathers make and prove such allegations against mothers. In reality, however, the majority of domestic abuse allegations are made against fathers by mothers. This means that the Family Court’s domestic abuse procedures disproportionately affect fathers’ visitation rights.

Common challenges facing fathers

Some of the challenges that fathers face are as follows:

  • A lack of knowledge – The most common challenge facing fathers following separation is a lack of knowledge. Fathers often don’t realise that, unless domestic abuse is raised, they have the same rights to access to their child as the mother.
  • False accusations – An unfortunate tactic deployed by some parents is to make false allegations of domestic abuse. 
  • Societal Bias – There is a certain bias in favour of mothers when it comes to who can provide the best level of care to children. This is a complicated issue but the importance of both parental figures in a child’s life cannot be understated.

The rights of unmarried fathers

In the UK if the father has his name on the child’s birth certificate then they will have automatic parental responsibility and will have a right to see their child. They can also gain parental responsibility if both parents agree. This can be supplemented by a parental responsibility agreement to make things official. If the father is not named on the birth certificate (and the mother is not willing to allow access), the father can apply to the family court for a parental responsibility order

What will happen if the case goes to court

The goal of the family court is to make an order that is in the best interests of the child.  To have the best chance of gaining visitation access it is important to have the advice and support of a reliable family lawyer who has plenty of experience in the area. For an overview of the court process in child contact applications, see: .

How can our lawyers help you gain visitation rights?

Here at Demstone Chambers, our team of family law barristers can help you gain visitation rights for your child. We specialise in family law, particularly allegations of domestic abuse. We are a barristers chambers based in Milton Keynes but can also offer help in London, Birmingham, Coventry, and across the UK if necessary. To find out more, please get in touch today.


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