The answer to this question is almost always “no,” especially if there is a court order granting custody and parent-time to your child’s father. What follows are potential exceptions to this general rule, but you should not withhold your child without discussing it with an experienced family law attorney beforehand.
You may be able to refuse access to your child’s father if:
- The court specifically prohibits the father from meeting the child.
- There’s no court order but you have strong evidence that the meeting will be detrimental to the best interests of the child. In this case, you can play the role of a protective gatekeeper and stop the father from meeting the child.
- The child is born out of wedlock and the father has not yet signed an “acknowledgment of paternity.”
As stated above, in all other cases, you cannot stop the biological or even legal father from seeing the child.
The legality of each of these conditions is explained below:
The Court Expressly Prohibits the Father from Seeing the Child
The court awards sole or joint or split physical and/or legal custody of the child based on the best interests of the child. When the court awards the sole physical custody to you, the mother, it also grants “visitation rights” to the non-custodial parent, the father.
If you can prove to the court that any visit by the father can harm the child’s safety, or otherwise be against the child’s best interests, the court can expressly prohibit him from visiting the child or impose severe restrictions on his visiting rights.
The court is likely to take away the father’s visitation rights if it is established that the father emotionally or physically abused the child in the past, or is suffering from a serious mental illness.
Note that you cannot deny the father from visiting the child just because the child does not desire to meet him. The court presumes that both parents have the right to repair their relationship with the child. So, if your child says that he/she does not want to meet his father, you cannot and should not stop the father from meeting the child in the absence of a court order. If you do, the father can allege that you are alienating the child from him and approach the court to revisit the custody order.
Protective Gate-Keeping When there is No Court Order
If you have evidence that the father is a substance abuser, cannot control his anger, has abused the child in the past, or that his parenting skills are so poor that he cannot care for the child without endangering the child, then you may be able to act as a protective gatekeeper and stop the father from visiting the child. Your action of stopping the child from meeting the father will likely be justified if you have the necessary evidence.
However, note that in such a case, after stopping the father’s meeting, you should immediately contact your divorce attorney and file for child custody and visitation orders. You also should provide evidence about your concerns to the court. This is because, in the absence of a court order, you do not have any legal authority to stop the father from seeing the child. If you do not act immediately and seek child custody and visitation orders, the father can allege that you are being a restrictive gatekeeper, and that is likely to complicate your case, including you losing custody. A restrictive gatekeeper is a parent who, without any justification, stops the child from seeing the other parent.
Court-Ordered Visitation Rights of Unmarried Father
An unmarried father is required to sign an “acknowledgment of paternity” before he can claim visitation rights. Acknowledgment of paternity is a signed document that establishes a father-child relationship. Many U.S. state laws allow unmarried fathers to voluntarily acknowledge paternity in writing and change their status to an “acknowledged father” so that they can claim parental rights just like a legal biological father in case of separation.
Such a father may not be able to claim any parental rights, including visiting rights, unless he has voluntarily acknowledged the paternity of the child in writing.
If the court has granted visitation rights to a person who is considered a “father” in the eyes of the law, you cannot prevent him from seeing the child. If you do, you will be in violation of the court order and can be found guilty of various counts of contempt for not abiding by the court-ordered visitation schedule. Contempt of a court order carries financial penalties, community service, or even imprisonment. Plus, the court can say that you have not acted in the best interests of the child, and it may even review your custodial rights.
Why take that chance?
If you feel the child will be harmed in the presence of a father who has visitation rights, you can take lawful action such as contacting child protective services or the police or asking your family law attorney for advice.