Father’s right to overnight access

If you’ve recently split with your partner and you have children together, it’s important to know where you stand in terms of your father’s rights to see your child. This post will help to explain what your rights are as a father to have your child overnight, what a Child Arrangement Order is and what is considered reasonable access for a father. If your separation is not overly amicable or you want to seek legal advice for your personal circumstances, you can contact our solicitors and schedule an appointment online.

What are a father’s rights to have their child overnight?

When it comes to a father’s right to have their child overnight, it initially comes down to the age of the child in question. The welfare of the child is always the court’s top priority, so those under 18 months old are considered suitable to visit their father (or noncustodial parent) for a few hours at a time, but due to their need for routine and familiarity, overnight stays are generally not recommended. As the child gets older, they’re in a better position to stay away from their custodial parent, and usually by the age of three, longer visits can be arranged.

It is possible to agree with the mother when and how you see your child away from the courts and for how long, but in less amicable divorces, it would be sensible to have the time split outlined by a Child Arrangement Order which is set out by the court.

What is a Child Arrangement Order?

This essentially sets out who the child or children will live with and when and how the child will have contact with their other parent. It is possible to arrange so that the child lives with both parents, but this isn’t always the best outcome for the child. If it is agreed that the child is to live with one parent, then the custodial parent automatically has overall parental responsibility.

A Child Arrangement Order is also used to set out the days or hours that the child is to spend with their father, should the mother have overall parental responsibility. This includes overnight stays, and these can be worked out so that additional nights are possible during specific times of the year, for example seasonal or school holidays.

What is considered reasonable access for a father?

‘Reasonable access’ is a broad term and it’s important to remember that this can mean something entirely different for different families. The courts deliberately do not dictate what reasonable access equates to for this reason. As previously mentioned above, it is possible to arrange contact with your child away from the courts, and this is a popular route for many families as it means both parties can be fluid and work around each other when timings may need to be altered. If, however, you’re unable to reach a decision or want a schedule that’s more set-in stone, going through the courts is another option for parents.

There are certain father’s visitation rights that need to be considered in any arrangement. Fathers have the right to:  

  1. Visit their child at a designated time.
  2. Enjoy activities with their child.
  3. Be free from any control by the other parent during their visitation.
  4. Spend all their allotted time with their child without any interference.

Things to consider when discussing reasonable access include the child’s schooling arrangements, your own personal commitments and working arrangements, the child’s age, plus any activities the child takes part in.

Does reasonable access for fathers vary throughout the year?

As briefly touched upon in the Child Arrangements Order section, reasonable access for fathers has the potential to fluctuate during the year, and this is mainly down to term time and school holidays. During term time, depending on your personal circumstances, reasonable access might be agreed to be every other weekend or similar, however during school holidays, you may want to look at agreeing a different approach so that the father is able to look after their child for longer or more frequent periods of time. Again, this can be discussed privately with your ex-partner, or if there are difficulties, you may wish to seek the help of the courts to organise an agreement.

What is reasonable access for fathers living abroad?

If you’re in a position where you’ve moved abroad and are unable to see your child on a regular basis, there are some options available which still provide reasonable access. For example, you may wish to set up weekly video calls or something similar to maintain regular indirect contact with your child. Planning in advance with the mother for when you are back in the country would also be a useful way to ensure that reasonable access is possible when you’re in the UK.

If you would like any further support or any advice around father’s rights to overnight access and reasonable access, please feel free to book an appointment with one of our family solicitors.