Divorce, separation & your rights as a parent

Family Law|Separation|December 8th 2016


Each week, Stowe Family Law solicitors answer readers’ questions on different legal issues.  This week’s query goes to Jennifer Williamson, a senior solicitor based in our Winchester office.

“I got divorced earlier this year and my ex has the kids. I see them twice a month. She has talked of moving in her with her boyfriend and I’d like to know what my rights as the absent parent are.”


Separation and divorce can be a very difficult time, especially when it comes to talking about, and hopefully agreeing, arrangements for the children. A huge number of potential issues and considerations should be dealt with at an early stage. Thankfully, there are a lot of resources available to help, many of them free of charge.

A good first port of call is the Cafcass website which features a number of useful information leaflets. Of particular note is their parenting plan which, if completed together, can be of great assistance.

Also of note is the Cafcass helpline for separated parents, which is currently being piloted in various parts of the country, including North Yorkshire where our head office is located.

Married or not?

The question of whether or not a child’s parents were married can sometimes be relevant. If an unmarried parent is not named on the child’s birth certificate then, generally speaking, they will not have parental responsibility for them. This could restrict them from receiving information and making decisions about the child’s life. In such instances, a parental responsibility agreement could be drawn up , or, if that is not possible a court application should be seriously considered.

New partners

It can be helpful to talk about when, and how, a child should be introduced to either parent’s new partner, when this situation is still hypothetical and neither parent has formed a new relationship. This can help with objectivity.

There are no strict rules about how long a relationship must have been in place, but most people agree that it is reasonable to delay an introduction until the relationship is settled and has some degree of permanence about it. The introduction should be dealt with sensitivity to both the child and the other parent. But unless a parent’s new partner poses a genuine risk of harm to the children (including emotional harm), it is not generally advisable to completely oppose an introduction. Mediation can be a really good place to talk about concerns of this nature.

New partners and even step-parents do not automatically have parental responsibility for their partner’s children. This means that they will not be entitled to make unilateral decisions for the children about important issues.


In circumstances where a child has a different surname to the parent with whom they live, it is not unusual for that parent to consider whether or not a change of surname would be appropriate or desirable.

It is not permissible for one parent to unilaterally change the surname by which a child is known. Should the other parent consent there is no problem. If, however, agreement cannot be reached then the parent wishing to make the change would need to make an application to court. A large number of factors need to be considered but on the whole the court is unlikely to remove the original surname completely and the outcome is often a double-barrelled surname at best.

Key decisions: schools and medical issues

If both parents having parental responsibility, key decisions about the children should be discussed and agreed together. This includes such thorny issues as the children’s schooling and medical issues. Each parent should keep the other fully updated in this regard.

The parent without the day-to-day care of the children can ensure that they are not inadvertently sidelined by, for example, maintaining regular contact with the school, signing up for ‘parent mail’ and arranging to be sent copies of school reports and all the correspondence which is sent to the parent with care. Likewise, the child’s GP can be informed about the breakdown of the marriage/relationship and made aware, in writing, that neither parent should make significant treatment decisions alone. It will be easier for the school and GP if any such letters are co-signed by both parents.


The question of whether or not a parent could, or should, relocate with a child is very significant.

In and of itself, relocation within England and Wales without the consent of both parents is not unlawful. That said, if relocation would change the way that the child has contact with their other parent then, ideally, the matter should be discussed at an early stage, well before any move. If a domestic relocation would place either parent in breach of a child arrangements order then, unless agreement can be reached, the court should be asked to order what is to happen.

International relocation, where the child is removed from the jurisdiction of England and Wales altogether, is unlawful unless all people with parental responsibility for the child give their consent to the move, or the court permits the relocation by making an order.

Specialist advice should always be obtained – for example, from a Stowe family lawyer – in relation to all relocation issues.

Jennifer was a solicitor based at Stowe Family Law's Winchester office. She is an accredited member of Resolution and practices in all aspects of family law. These included dealing with married and unmarried couples, pre- and postnuptial agreements, divorce, finances and cohabitation.

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  1. Christophe DeMoivre says:

    An “absent” parent? How very 1980s/1990s! I feel all nostalgic for some hair spray, big-shoulders and leg-warmers while watching re-runs of FAME…

    I think this a very unfortunate phrase, which (frankly) has no place on a legal website/blog specialising in Family Law.

    An absent parent (in most people’s mind) is a parent that abandons their child. A parent who does not live in the same residence as their child is a “non-resident parent”.

    • JamesB says:

      I agree, and repeat what I heard somewhere else on that. Most ‘absent’ parents are only absent because if they were present they would be arrested by the police; thus the usage of the term is certainly inflammatory and out of good or fair order.

  2. Kay says:

    How does a mother stand up to a psychologically financially abusive ex who has lied to CAFCASS, the courts, solicitors, the school. He was due to be ordained as a Vicar within the Church of England until they reviewed the informatiion on his application and declared that they would not ordain him. They were horrified to see he was medically unfit to elist but lied his way into the armed forces until medically discharged, it was only after a minr car bump that it came to light he had underlying medical issues so they let him go quietly (he stretched that sick leave for 4 years).. The Church claimed there was no safeguarding issues but our six year old is skeletal, conncerning as she was a big 9lb at birth. She weighed 18kg and so the Police raised concerns but still noone wants to take any notice, the emotional abuse not being allowed her phone to call mummy, or being told not to think about mummy you dont need her. Funny as from birth she was in my arms only seperating from me when I was forced to go to work full time, he was sick so had to stay home and neglect her. TV is a brilliant childminder for a 6 month old.
    I have now found that our daughter is living with him and his girlfirend, she works fulltime and he child minds her daughter and our daughter on his access days. I had an injunction, dropped to an undertaking “as he was a man of god” or so he said at the time. A Marac , the police served a PIN but still I am hiding from him and have now found that his girlfriends child is at the same school, living in the street next to the school, so I am frightened of my bully that I cant face going to school. I was even told that I cant change her school, if I cant take her out then he could get full custody s that he could continue her schooling. This is horrific especially when he took our now adult sons out of a good school after he screamed and ranted at my sister in the school yard. It just smacks of one law for men an another for abused bullied women. It seems that we should just lie down and take the abuse off our husband while married and then continue to be treated like dirt when they are divorced from them. I suppose at the moment I dont have to pay him maintenance yet, Im just waiting for that next.

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