My spouse is restricting access to my children, what can I do?
It is an unfortunate fact that many resident parents (the parent who lives with the children) often frustrates the non-resident parent’s access to their children during and after the separation process. The reasons are complicated and varied and, in some situations where there is a genuine risk to the child, justified. However, in most cases, limiting access to children is not warranted and can be emotionally damaging to the child.
So, what can do you do if you arrive to pick up your child and find that no one is home or that your ex refuses access? I wish I could give you a satisfactory solution, but the truth is that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it in that immediate moment.
Even if you have a court order in place, in which the details of access are legally binding, the police would not force your partner to release the children to you. There is absolutely no recourse in UK law if the resident parent refuses to hand over the children.
The police will likely only attend to a situation like this in response to a Public Order Offence. Acting in a way that is found to be abusive, threatening or insulting carries a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment. Abusive behaviour includes words, actions and even gestures or signs.
Actions to take if your spouse is restricted access to your children
If you are prevented access to your children, write a letter or email to your ex to make a record of the breach. Keep a diary of every instance this occurs. Try and negotiate with your spouse secure access. If you haven’t negotiated before read our article here.
If your children are old enough, communicate with them directly. Explain that you were there. Don’t assign blame. Keep it simple and tell them that, for whatever reason, you were not allowed access, but you are trying to resolve it.
If you find that you are not able to secure regular access to your children, you might be considering pursuing the legal route. Before you do, however, make sure that you give the situation enough time to settle down. It is more common to suffer with problems of access in the early stages when emotions are still raw and the financial settlement is being negotiated.
Document any issues and regularly review your records to see if the occurrences are reducing, increasing or staying the same. Analyse whether the incidents follow a pattern, as this might hold the key to finding a solution.
If the situation still does not improve after waiting it out, then you may have to choose the legal route. The courts now insist that you try mediation first, which can be a better and lower-cost option. If this doesn’t work, your final choice is a court order, and you will need the support of a solicitor.
Not only does the court process take a long time, but it can also cost a lot of money. Even worse is that your ex-partner can breach the order to give your access to your children with essentially no repercussions. The most severe consequence that they are likely to receive is a reprimand by the courts. For this reason, you should avoid a court order for access if possible. The best possible outcome for everyone concerned is for the parents to informally agree between themselves on access to the children.
For more helpful advice visit Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families.