Contact arrangements

Date last updated: 20 October 2017

Arranging contact with your child's other parent

We’ve put together some of the most frequently asked questions Gingerbread advisers have received from parents about contact arrangements.

To read about other parents’ questions and concerns about contact, see the FAQs below.

Also see our factsheet on making arrangements for your children for ideas and information about organising and setting up contact between your child and their other parent.

Contact: the basics

What is contact?

Children usually keep seeing or staying with their other parent regularly after their parents have separated. This is often called ‘contact’.

Children can have contact with their other parent in person, or by phone, online or letter. Every family has their individual contact routine, depending on their circumstances and the ages, needs and wishes of the children.

What sort of contact should my child have with their other parent?

Where can contact happen?

Contact can happen at your child’s other parent’s home, in a public place, at a relative’s home, at your home or in a contact centre. Contact might start in one type of location and then move to another setting as circumstances change.

Making contact arrangements

How do we set up our content times and arrangements?

Some parents are able to come to an agreement about contact by discussing their preferences between themselves.

If you would like help making joint decisions about contact, you  can also use a ‘parenting plan’. . A parenting plan is an agreement made by separated parents on how their children are cared for and supported. It is a useful tool to guide you on what specific issues parents need to consider when working out arrangements for children, such as where they will live most of the time, and when they will have contact with their other parent. See this free CACASS guide for more information.

What if we can’t agree when contact will take place?

If you are unable to agree between you then you may need to use mediation, a solicitor or the court.

Mediation

Mediation can help resolve disagreements about contact with the guidance of a trained professional. It is not legal advice and it is not counselling. You will discuss the issues, and the mediator will make sure you both have your say. Mediation can work if you both want to reach an agreement, even if you hold different views at the start. Mediation is not usually suitable if you have experienced domestic violence, emotional or financial abuse.

Legal aid is available for mediation if you are on a low income. You can find further information on using mediation services in our factsheet, making arrangements for your children.

Using a solicitor to negotiate

If negotiating with the other parent directly or using a mediator isn’t appropriate or hasn’t worked, you could ask a solicitor to help you negotiate. If you feel bullied or intimidated into making an arrangement you do not agree with, or you have experienced domestic violence, then using a solicitor may be more appropriate to your circumstances. Legal aid to use a solicitor is only available in very limited cases so you will need to consider the costs of using a solicitor if you don’t qualify for legal aid. See our factsheet getting legal help for more information.

Asking the court to decide

Applying to the court should be the last resort, when all other attempts to agree have failed or aren’t suitable. Court action can be lengthy and expensive, and parents may not get the outcome they want.

The court will encourage you to reach agreement, but if you cannot agree, the court may issue a child arrangements order. The order will impose a decision setting out the contact arrangements the court has decided are in the best interests of your child.

Sharing information

Unfortunately there isn’t a simple answer to this question. Many parents agree that they will let each other know where their children are staying when they are with the other parent, and many will let each other know what their plans are in advance. But not all parents agree this is necessary and it may also depend on the circumstances.

If you can’t agree with your child’s other parent about this issue, you may find it helpful to read our factsheet, help when you can’t agree, which explains the different options available to help you negotiate and resolve any disputes. You may also find our factsheet making arrangements for your children helpful. You may also wish to call our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 to talk through your situation and options with an adviser.

Safety

If you have concerns about safety during contact – for example if you believe that your child is at risk of harm during contact or you believe that your child’s needs are not being met – then please see our safety advice.

Legal support

You may need to use the court system to resolve the issue. The court can make a ‘child arrangements order’ setting out whether contact between your child and their other parent should happen. The court will tell both parents when and where contact will happen. If the court decides that no contact should happen, it will give reasons. For more information about getting legal advice see our factsheet, getting legal help.

Disagreements and problems

What can I do if my child gets upset during contact with their other parent?

It can be difficult for young children to understand when their parents separate and their routine changes. They can experience all sorts of emotions that they don’t know how to express and so their behaviour changes. All children are different and will have different reactions, and there are many ways in which you can support your child to understand and cope.

You may find Gingerbread’s factsheet on supporting your child useful. It contains details of specialist organisations that can give you the advice you need to support your child.

You might also like to speak to Family Lives on 0808 800 2222 which is open 24 hours a day, or visit their website. They can give you guidance and information about supporting your child.

There are no set rules on contact arrangements and it’s up to the parents to come to an agreement that works for you all. This is not always an easy process and both parents will have their own feelings. If you find it difficult to work things out together you can get help from a mediator who will work with both of you to try and reach an agreement. You may find it useful to read the Gingerbread factsheet on Making arrangements for your children.

Using mediation may help you and your child’s other parent to work out a different contact routine that will work better for your child and both parents. During mediation you can discuss future scenarios where contact changes as your child’s needs and wishes develop over time.

If you have concerns about your child’s safety or welfare when they are with their other parent then you may need to stop or change contact. See more about safety issues below.

What do I do if my child says they don’t want to see their other parent any more?

It’s important to put your child’s needs first and talk with them to see why they don’t want to see their other parent any more. Sometimes children can be reluctant to discuss issues. There may be a very simple reason that could be resolved easily. Sometimes children find that they want to spend time with their friends or do activities at the time that their contact with their other parent is scheduled, and may think they have to choose between contact and these activities. Sometimes there may be more serious issues.

For further guidance and support on how to approach talking to your child, you can speak to Family Lives on 0808 800 2222 or visit their website.

If you find it difficult to discuss this with your child’s other parent and they can’t see your child’s point of view, you could try mediation, where a trained mediator will work with both of you to try and reach an agreement. Further information is available in our factsheets Making arrangements for your children and Help when you can’t agree.

What if my child’s other parent regularly fails to turn up for contact?

It can be very frustrating when one parent doesn’t keep to the contact arrangements, and also confusing and upsetting for the children.

If your contact arrangements were agreed informally (e.g without using the courts)

If your contact arrangements were arranged between you without involving the courts, you could try to discuss the contact arrangements with your child’s other parent. There may be a reason why they are not turning up to agreed contact and it may be possible for you to make an alternative arrangement that they can keep to. See our factsheets Making arrangements for your children and Help when you can’t agree for some ideas about how to discuss arrangements and resolve difficulties.

If your contact arrangements were agreed using the courts

If you have a court order in place, it is advisable to seek legal advice before making any decisions Finding free legal advice can be very difficult, so you may find it useful to look at our factsheet on Getting legal help.

If your contact arrangements are set out in a court order and you feel that the arrangements are not working you will need to ask the court for it to be changed. You can inform the court that your child’s other parent is not attending or keeping to the agreed contact hours, and that you would like the contact order changed. You can ask to change the order according to what  is best for your child..

Alternatively, you could try and find out the reasons why your child’s other parent is unable to keep to the court order and come to some other agreement. However, if you do this, the original court order would still stand if your child’s other parent chooses to comply with it later on.

I want my child to have contact with their other parent, but the other parent does not want to have contact with our child.

I want my child to have contact with their other parent, but the other parent does not want to have contact with our child.

When a relationship breaks down it can be very difficult to talk about arrangements with your child’s other parent. Sometimes they don’t want to be involved in your child’s life and there could be many reasons for this. You can’t make a parent be involved if they don’t want to, but you can ensure you have done all you reasonably can to enable contact to happen.

If discussing this issue with your child’s other parent directly isn’t possible then you could try mediation. At mediation, both of you can try to resolve disputes on practical issues such as contact with the help of a trained mediator. You may be able to explore other options for contact and talk about your child’s needs without being distracted by other issues. Legal aid is available for mediation if you are on a low income. See our factsheets Help when you can’t agreeGetting legal help and Making arrangements for your children for more about mediation.

Safety issues

What if I think my child is not safe during contact with their other parent?

“For example if my child’s other parent is using drugs or alcohol, or isn’t taking care of them properly during their contact with our child.”

Any concerns about the safety of your children must be taken into account when making arrangements for them to see their other parent. Always ensure that the arrangements are safe for you and your children.

Sometimes it is just not safe or appropriate for children to see their other parent. If a parent is violent or emotionally abusive, for example, or is not capable of looking after a child on their own, the best thing for the child may be to have no contact with their other parent. In other cases contact can be supervised so that children can see their other parent safely.

If you think it may not be safe for your child to be alone with their other parent, but that contact in a supervised location could benefit your child and allow them to have positive contact with their other parent, you could consider using a contact centre. This is a place where parents can see their children with staff present to supervise contact visits. You can find information about child contact centres from the National Association of Child Contact Centres.

Another way of having supervised contact is to arrange for a family member or friend to supervise contact and ensure that your child is safe during contact.

You may need to consider applying to the court for a child arrangement order to put these arrangements in place. Rights of Women can advise you on how to do this. You can contact them on 020 7251 6577. See our factsheet Getting legal help too.

You can contact our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 if you would like to talk through your specific situation with an adviser.

What if face to face contact is not safe for my child?

If it is not safe or possible for your child be in direct physical contact with their other parent it is possible for contact to be arranged by letter, email, online, or by telephone. What sort of method works best will depend on your child’s needs, age and circumstances.

In some cases no contact at all between your child and their other parent may be the safest and best option.

How do I keep myself safe when I'm bringing my child to a contact session?

Always ensure that arrangements are safe for yourself and your child. If you have experienced domestic violence, harassment, emotional abuse, or any other kind of harm – or threat of harm – from your child’s other parent then the contact arrangements should ensure that you are not placed in danger, as well as ensuring that your child is safe.

It may be possible to arrange contact so that you do not come into contact with your child’s other parent before, during or after contact. Using a friend or relative to drop your child off and pick them up may be a way of achieving this, or you can use a contact centre. This is a place where parents can see their children with staff present to supervise contact visits. You can find information about child contact centres from the National Association of Child Contact Centres.

You should get legal advice before making child arrangements with an abusive parent. You may need to apply to court for a child arrangements order. There are special rules for the way a court deals with child contact cases where there has been abuse or violence, or threats to you or your child. Rights of Women can give you free legal advice about these issues – their helpline number is 020 7251 6577. See our factsheet Getting legal help too.

Advice is also available from the National Domestic Violence Helpline. Their Freephone helpline number is 0808 200 247.

Your child’s age

My child is still a baby – what is the right amount of contact with their other parent?

It can be a real challenge to make contact arrangements when your child is so young. There are no rules about exactly how contact should happen as each family is different. Your baby’s needs are the most important thing to consider when you make any decisions.

Making a parenting arrangement is an ongoing process and you will both need to adapt and make changes as the needs of your child change. When children are still very young one approach is to have shorter but more frequent periods of contact initially and then review the arrangement after six months.

If you have been the main carer for your baby and you’re concerned that your child’s other parent does not know how to look after them on their own, this is something that can be built up to in time. It may be good to start with contact in familiar surroundings such as your home to make your child feel more comfortable and allow for their relationship with their other partner to progress positively. You may wish to openly discuss any issues about caring for your child during contact with your child’s other parent. This will allow them to reassure you that your child will be safely supervised when they are on their own with their other parent.

After some time it may be possible to extend the time your child spends with their other parent but reduce the number of days per week, and then move towards overnight contact once your child is old enough to spend nights with their other parent.

If you find it difficult to talk about this together you might find it useful to use a family mediation service to help you reach an agreement. You can find information in our factsheets Making arrangements for your children and Help when you can’t agree.

How old does a child need to be before he or she can decide how much they want to see their other parent and which parent to live with?

The wishes and feelings of the child (in light of their age and understanding) is one of the factors considered by a court when making a decision about contact and living arrangements.

The age that children can make these sort of decisions for themselves isn’t specified in law, as children mature differently. Generally though, the older your child is the more emphasis the court can place on their wishes and feelings.

At the age of 10 or 11 for example, a child’s wishes may be considered by a court but would not be the determining factor in any decision. The court would look at all factors in deciding what is in your child’s best interests.

You could try mediation, where a trained mediator will work with you and your child’s other parent to try and reach an agreement. Your child’s wishes and feelings can be taken into account in mediation. Further information on making arrangements is available in our factsheet, help when you can’t agree.

For further guidance and support on how to approach talking to your child about this, you can speak to Family Lives on 0808 800 2222 or visit their website www.familylives.org.uk.

Help with family mediation

If you want support in coming to decisions with your child's other parent, you can use a family mediator. The Family Mediation Council can connect you with a family mediator in your area.

Find a family mediator

Get advice

If you want to speak to someone about contact arrangements, you can call an advice line. Family Lives works with families to support them through separation and Gingerbread has a single parent helpline.

Single Parent Helpline Family Lives