Are separated parents required to gain consent from the other to use babysitters or arrange sleepovers for their children? Legally, no. But if it becomes a regular occurrence when a parent is unavailable, it may be appropriate to reconsider the contact arrangement.
As I touched upon in my previous article, ‘Separated Parents – who can you bring children into contact with?’, it is not necessary for one parent to require the consent of the other in order to bring a child into contact with third parties. The same principal can be extended to include babysitters and the arrangement of sleepovers.
How Courts view babysitters and sleepovers
There is a presumption that the parent holding parental responsibility will utilise and exercise that appropriately to ensure that their child is kept safe and secure. Consequently, the Court generally would trust a parent to undertake the necessary checks and assessments to determine who would be suitable to undertake babysitting duties for their child or, say, a night out.
Again, there is no specific requirement for that parent to have to notify the other of the intent to use a babysitter or to have their consent as to who would be utilised for this purpose.
The same principle would apply if a child wants to have a sleepover at a friend’s home. Again, the Court would expect the parent with care to exercise their parental responsibility appropriately and to be satisfied that the person with whom the child is going to stay is a suitable and appropriate person to undertake the supervision of the child and/or children during the course of the sleepover.
This principle is further extended to incorporate wider extended family members.
Courts generally accept that a child’s welfare is assisted by being able to maintain a relationship with wider extended family members. This would include, of course, grandparents, and the Court would find it difficult to criticise a parent who made arrangements for their children to spend a period of time with their grandparents inclusive of a sleepover with them.
Do you have to notify the other parent if your child is being looked after by a babysitter or going to sleepovers?
There is no specific legal requirement to notify the other parent of an intent to either go out for the night and have a babysitter or indeed, for the child to go away for a sleepover, unless it would impact upon the normal arrangements for that parent to have time with their child.
However, in the majority of cases, I would invite a parent to put themselves in the position of the other and if the response to the question is “would you want to know if your child was staying away overnight somewhere else?” is “yes”, then, in general terms, that same courtesy should probably be provided to the other parent.
How often can children be looked after by babysitters or attend sleepovers?
There is no specific limit to the number of times that a child could be cared for by a babysitter or attend sleepovers with wider extended family such as grandparents. However, if it is something that is beyond the occasional and is a significant and regular occurrence which impacts upon the amount of time that the child is in the care of that parent, then this could be a significant issue.
Take, for example, a scenario where the Court has made a Court Order to provide for a father to have contact every other weekend from Friday through to Monday. If the majority of that weekend is in fact not spent in that parents’ care but in the care of a grandparent, and this is occurring on a regular basis, it may be appropriate to reconsider the suitability of the frequency and/or duration of the contact that is being provided.
After all, a Contact Order provides the contact to that parent, not to the wider extended family per se. If the other parent is indicating that they are free, available and wish to have the care of their child, then this may justify an application to reduce and/or limit the amount of contact with the parent who is less available.
What if your child wants to attend a sleepover or birthday party when they are supposed to be seeing the other parent?
I have been asked whether a child’s wish to attend a particular birthday party or indeed a sleepover is justification for prevention of contact. In general terms, the answer is ‘no’. The provision of contact is considered to be of such importance that it would override a child’s wish to engage in such an activity.
However, there is nothing stopping the parent who is due to have contact engaging properly and appropriately in their child’s life, recognising the child’s wish to attend either birthday party or sleepover, and confirming that they will undertake and arrange for the same to occur during their period of care.
Whilst this should be relatively easy to achieve when the parents live reasonably close together, if there is significant distance between the parents there is still nothing stopping the parents discussing and agreeing a variation or amendment to the contact, such as to swap weekends to allow for the child to attend the event.
Again, however, in general terms it would be for the parent who is due to have the care of the child to make that decision, balancing the child’s wishes and feelings and the benefits of allowing the child to attend against the impact of the contact arrangement.
If you would like to discuss babysitters and sleepovers, please get in touch with us below.
This article is part of a series on Private Family Law and Children Law proceedings. If you would like to learn more about the rules around parental responsibility, contact, holidays and arrangements for separated parents, please click here for the full series.
The next article in the series will address children’s clubs and activities.
If you would like to discuss the different types of legal proceedings relating to children, please get in touch and we’d be happy to assist you.