Tag: Contact Arrangements
There are many different ways children can stay in contact with the parent they’re not living with after a separation or divorce. Every family is different.
Making arrangements for your children to spend time with their other parent can be difficult and emotionally charged, and there are lots of things to think about. This page covers the main things to consider when it comes to how, when and where your child sees their other parent.
Types of contact
Child contact arrangements can be different for every family. And the type of contact and routine that you arrange with your child’s other parent may change as your child gets older.
Your child might see their other parent at their home, in a public place, at a relative’s home, at your home or in a contact centre. Many children stay overnight with their other parent regularly. Others see their other parent for shorter periods in the daytime. Some children go to their other parent for long periods during the school holidays and others will have regular weekend visits.
There’s no one right way to do it. What’s important is to find a way that works for your child – and for you and their other parent.
Arrangements for very young children
If your child is still very young, one approach is to start with shorter but more frequent periods of contact. You can then review the arrangement every 6 months. Parenting arrangements are an ongoing process. Things will need to adapt as the needs of your child change.
If you’re worried that your child’s other parent doesn’t know how to look after your child on their own, you can build this up over time. For example, they could start seeing the child in your own home. This might help your child feel more comfortable and give you a chance to talk over how best to care for them. It will also give them a chance to show you that the child will be safe when they’re on their own with the other parent.
You can gradually let your child spend longer periods of time with their other parent over fewer days a week. Once you feel comfortable with them spending the night with their other parent, you can bring in overnight stays.
Agreeing how and when your child will see their other parent often isn’t easy. But it’s an important decision and there are lots of things to think about. It might take time to find an arrangement that works for everyone.
Some parents can work together to make good arrangements, but some need help. Some families find that making a parenting plan helps. This isn’t legally binding, but is a way of thinking through the most important elements of sharing time with your child. You can find out more and download a parenting plan PDF on the CAFCASS website. (They represent children’s interests in family court cases.)
Find out more about getting help when you and your child’s other parent can’t agree.
Tips for talking about contact
Here’s some advice for how to come to the best decisions for your child with their other parent.
Before you sit down to talk things over, decide what you need to agree on and what information you need to help you make these decisions. Find a neutral place to talk away from your child, and think beforehand about what compromises you’re prepared to make.
Put your child first
Whatever your feelings, it’s really important to put your child’s needs first. What they need will depend on how old they are, their own feelings and wishes, their health, their abilities and their personality.
It’s also helpful to think about how any changes to their routine will affect them. It’s good to think about where their friends and relatives live and where your child goes to school, and whether they have any special classes or out of school activities.
Be as open and honest as possible
This applies to your thoughts and feelings as well as future plans. Try to explain the reasons behind the arrangements you’re suggesting and why they’d be best for your child.
Try to see it from the other side
This is easier said than done when you’re hurt and angry, but try to listen to what is being said and respond to that. Understanding your own feelings can help you understand the other point of view.
Take one step at a time
Try to deal with one thing at a time and agree on the easier things first. Make a list of priorities to decide to keep the discussion on track. If you’re getting stuck or emotions are running high, try taking a break and picking back up at another time.
Try to really think through the day-to-day practicalities of how the arrangements will work for your child. This might include:
- How your child will get to and from school, childcare and other places they need to be – and who will be responsible for making sure this happens safely
- If you have more than one child, whether they have different needs and so will need different arrangements
- How the sleeping arrangements will work if your child is going to sleep over at the other parent’s house
- How to make sure your child has access to the things they need day to day, wherever they are
It might also be worth thinking about the impact of your child splitting their time between you and their other parent on the child maintenance you receive. See our page on using the Child Maintenance Service for more.
If it’s hard to talk
When a relationship breaks down it can be hard to talk to your child’s other parent. They might not want to be involved in your child’s life. You should try your best for the sake of your child, but you can’t make them have contact if they don’t want to.
If it’s proving impossible to talk things through with your child’s other parent, you could try mediation. This is where a trained person guides you through discussions to try to agree on practical decisions. You might be able to get legal aid to pay for this if you’re on a low income – you can check on gov.uk. If you qualify, you’ll also need to find a solicitor who accepts legal aid.
See our page on help when you can’t agree for more about mediation.
Putting your child first
No matter what’s going on between you and your child’s other parent, it’s important to put your child’s interests first. What’s best for them should be at the heart of your decisions.
Children have a right to a relationship with both their parents (unless this puts their safety or wellbeing at risk). So it’s important to listen to what your child wants, and put their needs at the heart of your decisions.
In some families, the child spends a lot of time and stays overnight with both parents. This is called shared residence or shared care. For this to work well, you and the other parent will need to be able to communicate well about day-to-day issues and be flexible.
What’s best for children
Where both parents want to be involved in the child’s life and it’s safe for the child, it usually works best when:
- Both parents play a role in bringing them up
- Each parent does all they can to make sure their child has a good relationship with their other parent
- Children are clear about arrangements for spending time with each parent, and things don’t change suddenly unless it’s unavoidable
- They’re not exposed to conflict, which is distressing and harmful for them
- Both parents make sure their child stays in touch with important people, like relatives and close family friends
- New partners support the arrangements you’ve made and have a good relationship with your child
- You can communicate well with your child and their other parent, and are focused on what’s in the child’s best interests
Communicating well with children
Here are some things you can do to make the process of change and separation easier for your child.
Your child might be worrying about things that you haven’t even thought about. And children often blame themselves for their parents’ separation. Explain that it’s not their fault and reassure them regularly. This is particularly important for younger children.
Keep them informed
You may feel you’re protecting your child by not telling them what’s going on, but you could be doing the opposite. They may not know what’s going on, so explain things gently and give them time to adjust. Children want to be involved and listened to. But don’t expect them to make final decisions – this is too much pressure.
Don’t fight in front of them
Try not to argue within earshot of your child, even on the phone. It’s hurtful and distressing for them.
Protecting your child’s safety
Whatever arrangements you make must be safe for you and your child.
Sometimes it’s just not safe or appropriate for children to see their other parent. For example, where the other parent is violent or abusive, or not capable of looking after a child on their own. The safest and best option might be no contact at all between your child and their other parent. Or, you may want to avoid face-to-face contact and agree they can communicate online, by email or over the phone.
Another option might be to make sure their time together is supervised. This could mean arranging for a family member or friend to be there at all times. Or it could mean using a contact centre – a place where parents can see their children with staff there to supervise. You can read more and find contact centres near you through the National Association of Child Contact Centres.
If there’s any risk of violence or abusive or inappropriate behaviour when your child has contact with their other parent, you may need legal help when making arrangements. You could apply to the court for a child arrangement order – you can get family law advice from Rights of Women. See our getting legal help page for more.
If you’re concerned for the safety of your child, get help and advice as soon as you can. This may be the police, social services or the NSPCC.
Tips for making arrangements work
Make sure everyone’s clear
Even when you have a set routine in place, things will come up that mean plans might need to change. Try to think ahead and give your child’s other parent as much notice as possible if this happens.
Avoid sudden changes if possible
Plans will sometimes change at short notice. Make a plan for what you’ll do in an emergency – if one of you is ill, for example, and can’t see the children. Try to be as flexible as you can, but review arrangements if they need changing at short notice a lot.
Make arrangements for significant days
Try to agree in advance how your child will spend important days like birthdays and religious festivals. Parents often take turns seeing their children on special days. If you have an older child, it’s good to involve them in decisions.
The decisions you make don’t have to be set in stone. If you’re not sure something will work, you can always try it for a certain period of time and then review. It will be important to adjust arrangements as your child grows up.
Be flexible if your child is older
Older children will have their own opinions about what works. And they’ll have their own plans and interests. So they’re likely to need more flexible arrangements. If it’s in their best interest to change how things work, and you all agree, you can do this any time.
Plan for school holidays
It’s common for parents to share school holidays. So it’s important to plan and agree this ahead of time. If you’re child is older, you could let them join in so they feel more included.
If one of you is taking the child away, it might be good to share as much about the trip with the other as possible – for example, travel and accommodation arrangements and contact details.
Permission to go abroad
Depending on who has parental responsibility, you may need the permission of the other parent to take your child out of the UK. If you’re the only one with parental responsibility, you don’t need their permission.
If the other parent also has parental responsibility, you do need their permission. It’s a good idea to get them to give you their permission to take the child abroad in writing. You may be asked for proof at a UK or foreign border, or if there’s a dispute about whether you were allowed to take your child abroad. It might help if you also have:
- Evidence of your relationship with the child, like a birth certificate
- A divorce or marriage certificate (if you have one), if your surname is different to your child’s
If you’re named as the parent with residence (through a residence or child arrangements order), you can take them abroad for up to 28 days without the other person’s agreement.
If you have a child contact arrangements order that specifies how the child splits their time between you and the other parent, you’ll need to get the other parent’s permission so that you don’t break the terms of the order.
If the other person won’t give you permission, you’ll have to apply to a court. You might want to get legal advice in this instance.
Dealing with potential problems
We can’t agree on arrangements.
If you can’t agree contact arrangements with your child’s other parent, you might want to use a mediator, a solicitor or the court. Our page on help if you can’t agree explains more about these options.
My child gets upset when they have contact with their other parent.
It can be hard for children to come to terms with their parents separating and the new routine this brings. They can experience all sorts of emotions that they don’t know how to deal with. And this can be hard for the whole family.
There are things you can do to help your child work through things – see our page on helping your child through a separation for more. Family Lives has lots of advice about helping young people deal with emotions – they have a confidential helpline and live online chat.
If you’re worried about your child’s safety or wellbeing when they’re with their other parent, you may need to adjust the contact arrangements.
My child doesn’t want to see their other parent any more.
It’s important to talk to your child to really understand what’s behind their desire to stop. There may be a simple reason that can be easily resolved. It might be that they want to spend time with their friends or do things at the time that the contact is scheduled – so they may feel they have to choose between contact and other things. Or it could be something more serious. Their wellbeing and safety must come first.
Family Lives has lots of advice about talking to young people and helping them deal with emotions – they have a confidential helpline and live online chat.
If this is a hard thing to talk about with your child’s other parent, you could try mediation. This is where a trained mediator works with both of you to help you reach an agreement. See our page on help when you can’t agree for more.
The other parent often doesn’t turn up.
Not only can this be very frustrating for you, it can confuse and upset your child.
It’s important to speak to the other parent to understand why they’re not keeping to arrangements. You may need to make adjustments in light of what they say.
If you have a contact order laying out the arrangements, you could try to come to a new agreement with the child’s other parent without going through the courts. Bear in mind that the original contact order arrangements would still officially be in place. If you want this to be officially changed, you’ll have to explain to the court the difficulties you’re having and ask for a new arrangement.
I’m worried about my safety when I’m bringing my child to see their other parent.
It’s essential that the arrangements in place don’t affect your own safety. You might need to find a way to get your child to and from their other parent without you coming into contact with them. Perhaps you could use a friend or relative to drop off and pick up your child. Or you could use a contact centre – a place where parents can see their children with staff there to supervise. You can read more and find contact centres near you through the National Association of Child Contact Centres.
If your child’s other parent has been abusive, it’s a good idea to get legal advice about child contact arrangements. There are special rules for how a court deals with child contact cases where there has been abuse or violence, or threats to you or your child. You can get free legal advice through Rights of Women. We also have a page on getting legal help. There’s also a free, 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline.