Making Child Contact arrangements
After you separate from a former partner, setting up fair child contact arrangements will be on both of your minds. But what happens when something goes wrong?
Your first step should be to talk about it with your former partner. If you need to go further, here’s what you need to understand:
What Does Contact With Children Mean?
“Contact” is the phrase used to refer to the occasions (in situations where there is a primary resident parent, i.e. the child lives with one parent most of the time) when the non-resident parent (i.e. the parent who does not mainly live with the child) spends time with the child.
Contact broadly comes in three different varieties:
- Direct – contact in person either during the daytime or overnight.
- Indirect – contact at a distance, such as by phone, Skype, Zoom, or even through letters in the post.
- Supervised or supported contact – this happens at a special contact centre, usually because there is some kind of safeguarding concern or because you and your ex-partner don’t speak.
What Is Child’s Custody? (How Terms Have Changed)
When parents separated a few years ago, it was common to say that the residential parent (the parent the child lived with most of the time) had “custody” of the child. Someone might have said they wanted to obtain “access” to their child, meaning spend more time with them.
This was all changed when the idea that one parent should gain “custody” of the child and the other parent only get “access” (as if the child were some kind of possession) started to be seen as something more than a little old-fashioned.
These days (ever since the Children Act 1989 came into force), the terms most commonly used should be “child arrangements” or “contact”.
What Is The Most Common Children’s Custody Arrangement?
In the modern day, it’s much more common for separated parents to have shared child arrangements (what would once have been called “custody”). In this, the child would split their time living with parents much closer to 50/50 than would perhaps once have been the case.
However, it’s also not uncommon for there to be an unequal but agreed weighting when the child lives mainly with one parent. If this kind of child arrangement cannot be reached amicably or relations break down, it’s not uncommon for action to be required.
How To Obtain Contact With Your Child
If your ex-partner won’t let you see your child, there are several ways you can go about addressing the situation:
1) Talk It Over
Phase one should always be to reach out to your ex and try to talk about it. This will be easier on everyone. If your child is over 16, you can speak to them directly to make arrangements – the courts won’t do this for older children.
2) Make Notes If You Can’t Talk About It
If your former partner either won’t talk to you or you can’t agree on what to do, the next thing is to start making notes. These should list the times when your partner has failed to stick to the child arrangements you’ve made, for example if they:
- Don’t allow you and your child to meet at agreed times
- Bring your child home later than agreed for no reason
3) Use Official Options
You can apply to make changes to the original Child Agreement Order you worked out when you first separated (if any). There is a changing child arrangements guide on how to do this on the Ministry of Justice website.
If that fails, you can try using a child contact centre. This is a kind of shared neutral ground where you can make handover arrangements that don’t include you and your former partner meeting or where you can get some supervised or supported contact.
4) Try Mediation
A mediator is a third party with professional training in how to help people manage and resolve disputes. Mediation is a sensible first step before going to court. Firstly, because it’s cheaper.
Secondly, because if you later go to court, you often need to prove that you at least went to an introductory mediation session or MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting).
5) Go To Court
Going to court should never be your first step if you are experiencing child contact problems. The system is designed to encourage you to try other things first. The only exception might be if you experienced domestic abuse.
If you decide to consider going to court, you will want to talk your case over first with a specialist family law solicitor. They can advise you on your chances of success and how the process will work.
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