Can a parent be forced to see their child?

Family | 23 Mar 2017 16

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September 22, 2020

In the course of a Twitter conversation I was watching (but not participating in) the other day one of the tweeters made the point that the family courts can force a ‘custodial’ parent to make the child available for contact, but cannot force a non-custodial parent to have contact with the child. It is an old point, which I have seen raised a number of times over the years.

Usually the point is made as a question: can the courts force a parent to see their child? To which I have always answered “no”, never having come across a case in which an English or Welsh court has attempted in any way to force a parent to see their child.

However, that is not to say that I have never come across such a situation. Back in 2008 I was informed of a German case where the court ordered a father to see his son.

The facts of that case were as follows. The father was married and had two children with his wife. Several years previously he had an extramarital affair with a childhood girlfriend, and a child was conceived. It seems that he ended the affair (or at least it came to an end) and he managed to save his marriage, although any reminder of the relationship with his former girlfriend posed a threat to the stability of the marriage.

The mother of the extramarital child tried to force him to have contact with their son, but he refused, arguing that this would jeopardise his marriage. There were even suspicions that the former girlfriend wanted to use the case to revive the relationship. The matter went to court, and the proceedings continued for several years (the child was nine when I heard of the case).

At one point in the proceedings the Higher Regional Court in Brandenburg (which I understand is an appeal court) ordered the father to see his child every three months or pay a fine of 25,000 Euros. However, the father appealed to the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, claiming that the ruling would jeopardise his marriage and infringe on his personal rights.

The Constitutional Court ruled in the father’s favour, but not for the reasons he proposed. The argument of the court was based on the child’s welfare. Under German law, the child has a right to have contact with both parents, but the ruling stipulated that this normally stops short of the use of legal force, on the grounds that in many cases it would not be good for the child to have contact with an unwilling parent.

It’s an interesting attempt by a court to force contact, using the threat of a fine if the father did not comply with the court’s wishes. It’s also interesting as the father had a ‘genuine’ reason for not wanting to see the child, not simply that he couldn’t be bothered with him. However, the approach of the Constitutional Court must surely be right, and follows the approach that the courts would take in this country to any question concerning arrangements for a child: that the welfare of the child is paramount.

Ultimately, it must always be a welfare issue, and quite how the welfare of the child is going to be promoted by forcing a recalcitrant parent to see them is hard to imagine. Unless that parent has a last-minute change of heart it is obviously likely to be extremely traumatic for the child to see at first hand that one of its parents does not wish to see them, or possibly does not wish to even have anything to do with them. In the end, courts can force people to do things, but they can’t force people to want to do things.

The answer to the question, therefore, must still be: no, the courts cannot force a parent to see a child.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. JLB says:

    Often ex husbands become ex dads. my ex simply stopped being a parent when we divorced and sees his children for a couple of hours a few times a year at most. The problem for me is that I have zero support in brining them up, no respite from being a single mother to 3 and little opportunity to have a life outside of being a mother. I can seek the support of my solicitor or the CMS if he doesn’t pay the child support but nothing can be done about his dereliction of duty and lack of a moral compass. It beggars belief that parents can just simply walk away from their moral responsibilities and nothing can be done.

    • Brian says:

      Try being at the other end of the spectrum where you are being deliberately excluded from the upbringing of a child. As for respite from the demands of bringing up children, that is a convenient biproduct of the child spending time with the other parent – not a reason for it.

    • elizabeth frantes says:

      I’ve heard of and personally witnessed this, and in all of those cases, the father didn’t want a child and the woman tried to ‘babytrap’ him. Often the woman ASSUMES that he’ll be like those movie dads who instantly ‘fall in love’ with a child they never wanted. Women who DEMAND a child with a reluctant father are setting themselves up, since the babydaddy figures, well, SHE wanted the child, it’s HER problem. I think women, and men, set themselves up by ASSUMING that the only way to live is married with children. But we KNOW that many parents are unfit, and many unwilling. This is why abortion on demand is so important, since the CHILD is the one who pays the highest price.

    • Joel Jon Mc Cafferty says:

      I hear your pain. I have the same. My ex married a mail order bride from Brazil. Imported by his best friend actually. After that he refused to see our two younger children. My son was 10 and my daughter 14. He devastated my son who is now 12. It is very hard as you never get a day free and I do not have a single family member to help carry the burden. This is Australia.

  2. Erin says:

    It is so sad that this question even needs to be asked (but I know that it does). Just because you are no longer married, does not mean that you are no longer a dad or mom.

  3. Yvie says:

    It is very sad when a parent no longer wishes to have contact with their child. I should imagine that the percentages are small when compared to the wider picture, when one parent deliberately seeks to alienate the children from the other parent.

    • Stitchedup says:

      Absolutely Yvie, that’s the elephant in the room that our feminist justice system and politicians choose to ignore. It’s difficult to imagine anything more abusive than brainwashing a child into believing their father doesn’t love them and is a danger to them. It’s also difficult to imagine anything more abusive to a parent than denying them contact with their children. But of course, our wonderful family and criminal justice system positively encourages estrangement of fathers and the demonisation of men/ fathers in general.

  4. Andrew says:

    JLB: Just what do you think could or should be done about fathers refusing to stay in contact with their children, when that is what happens?
    Some such men have to move because of their work. Would you want to stop them?
    And then there are those mothers who make contact difficult: last minute cancellations (“my Mum wants to come and see them, make it next weekend”) or getting them up late or wanting them back early or just making father feel unwelcome on the doorstep. Any of us who have done family work know all about that.

  5. Jayne says:

    My daughter and her Dad had a fantastic relationship until she was five years old when her father met another woman. He left us both and refuses to have any contact with our daughter who has suffered incredible emotional distress because of his abandonment for years. She still has very low self esteem and her dads constant refusal to acknowledge her existence further diminishes her self worth. I feel that the courts should at least make this kind of abandonment where the emotional and psychological impact on the child follows them around their whole lives a serious issue which has consequences for the parent who abandons the child. I agree forcing contact would be more detrimental to the child but there should be some way of forcing the refusing parent to communicate in writing at least to the child through mediation to explain why. My daughter has no closure which further impacts on her mental health.

  6. Amelia Banks says:

    My son has seen his father once in the whole 27 years of his life. I offered contact consistently throughout his childhood but never even received a reply apart from once from his lawyer telling me to back off. How can a legal system exist that forces mothers to allow contact with fathers when the fathers deign to want it, yet does nothing when children are desperate to see their fathers but the father refuses? Men can enforce contact when they choose it but can walk away when they want to. Doesn’t seem right to me.

  7. sharane wagner says:

    My son is 5 years old and haven’t seen his father since,he always provides financially but denies to see my son in person or hold any contact. This hurt me so much i dont know when i could ever get over it, money is not everything and i would really love for him to hold relationship with my son but i really cant force him no matter what it is his will

  8. Kate says:

    My husband left me for another women when my daughter was 8. He had sporadic contact at first until she had a baby which they kept secret. Then it stopped, they moved, got married and kept it quiet! I had to go to csa for maintenance. I really tried to encourage him to see our daughter but due to the fact the new women was so controlling and him so weak he’s completely dumped her. No Xmas or birthday texts – nothing . He has a new family and my daughters forgotten. She’s nearly 12 now and really doesn’t miss him at all she realises it’s sad he is her dad but that he had nothing to offer so she’s not missing out. But it’s unfair that yes I work full time, I get all the responsibility whilst he just left and dumped it all on me.

  9. Josh says:

    How about stop running the dad off and making it difficult for him to be a dad stop taking all rights in court and making the dad pay child support. Women go to court and demand full custody then get pissed when the dad gives up and gives you exactly what you asked for. You want your kids to have a father then prove it give him equal rights no child support how many of you are willing to do that? If not stop complaining and start taking responsibility for what you did and asked for!!

  10. Fiona W says:

    How is it fair that you can take a mother to court for access but not a father? My daughters have been denied by their dad since before they were born. He cheated on his partner with me(I didnt know about her) lt was a one time thing. I have reached out to him and his partner several times, asking for his involvement but he refuses. My girls ask about their dad ALL the time but I have nothing to tell them. He has two children with his partner. And two more with me. I just want my girls to have a dad thats it. I’ve never asked for money, nor will I ever. Time. Thats what I am looking for, for our children. They deserve to have their father in their lives it makes me so mad that he won’t even meet them once.

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