Scottish father who endured 'horrible experience' battling to see more of his young son urges separated parents to seek advice
A Scottish father who battled for three-and-a-half years to secure greater contact with his son has urged other separated parents not to give up hope.
He shared his story amid concerns that “misconceptions” around parental rights mean many people still do not see their children as often as they could. Across the UK, there are an estimated four million children whose parents are separated, while about 30 per cent of children in Scotland will experience family separation.
One father, who has agreed to be identified as Alan to respect his family’s privacy, highlighted his experiences to raise awareness of the rights many people do not realise they have.
In 2019, he separated from his former wife, with whom he shares a young son. Initially, they tried organising contact themselves, but it was not enough to allow a meaningful father/son relationship.
At one point he was only seeing his son for five hours each week. Various avenues were pursued between lawyers before Alan’s case ended up in court and, after a number of hearings, final orders were granted.
His son now lives with him for 15 days a month – five nights one week and two nights another. Supporting arrangements are also in place to cover holidays, ensuring the boy has shared time with both parents.
Alan, who lives in central Scotland, said: “It was not a nice situation and really upsetting at times. But getting access arrangements in place through the court has been worth it for me and my son.
“It was really difficult – an emotional time. We were going through the end of a relationship and, at the same time, I went from seeing my son every day to only five hours a week.
“Friends and colleagues who had been through similar situations told me this was not right. They told me I was going to need to speak to a lawyer.
“It was still a difficult system, but she fought really hard, bringing experience and an element of calm to the situation.
“My son’s my best friend and he’s so happy now. Going long periods without seeing him really affected my mental wellbeing – and I am sure it affected his too. The arrangements we now have in place bring routine and stability to all of our lives.”
Alan said he had become “disillusioned” before his lawyer got involved.
“I do not think there’s enough information out there for dads for them to understand what equal parental rights means,” he said. “How many parents are out there who should be seeing their children more, but are not because they have not had the right advice?
"I realised how wrong my situation was when things were explained to me. This was a horrible experience – something I never wish to go through again. But I am really grateful for the support I have received."
Nina Taylor, a partner at Scottish legal firm Lindsays, said many people still subscribed to the old-fashioned concept that one parent should care for a child full time, while the other should see them for a few hours at the weekend at most.
“That is an unhelpful attitude, both for the parent who is left with all the responsibility, and also for the parent who desperately wants to play a more meaningful role in their children’s lives,” she said.
“The best outcome for all concerned is when parents can continue to share the care of their children, so that decisions are made together and the children spend substantial quality time with each parent, including holidays.
"We unfortunately sometimes see a parent who is restricted in the time that they are allowed with their child will walk away from seeking an increase as there are so many common misconceptions – such as fathers having less rights than mothers.
“That’s not the case. Both parents have the same parental rights and responsibilities if they are both named on a child’s birth certificate.”
Ms Taylor said discussions over access could be difficult in the immediate aftermath of a break-up.
She said: “Mediation can often assist in allowing people to talk about sensitive issues in a supported setting.
“Our experience is that most parents are able to look beyond adult issues and put the best interests of the children first. Sometimes, though, family lawyers deal with volatile situations where parents are entrenched and act unreasonably.
“A parent struggling to gain or maintain contact with a much loved child can often feel unsupported and at a loss. In those situations, legal advice is essential.”
Legally, parents have the same rights and responsibilities when both are named on the birth certificate – one does not have rights that trump those of the other parent.
“Separation and divorce does not come with an instruction manual,” Ms Taylor said. “It’s a difficult time, even more so when there are children involved.
“If you can come to an amicable, negotiated agreement, it often means that you can tailor the solution to fit your exact circumstances, giving you much more control over events than if you were in the hands of a court, where a decision can simply be imposed.
“In those situations, our job is to ensure they have the best advice possible. At the end of the day, everyone simply wants what’s best for their child, but this can sometimes be lost in the emotion of separation.”
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