When parents split up - managing contact

Splitting

Photo: Ian Sane 

Here, Coram Children's Legal Centre answers some FAQs about the etiquette for and legal position on contact:

Can contact be refused?

Contact should only be refused where there’s a very good reason. For instance, if there are concerns about safety or welfare concerns. Refusal to allow contact is likely to lead to an application being made to the courts. The resident parent will then have to explain why the other parent has been prevented from having contact. A legally binding court order to set up contact may be made.

What if there’s already a court order?

If there’s a court order and the resident parent isn't sticking to it, an application for enforcement of the Order can be made. The courts will then decide whether a breach has occurred and enforce it as they feel appropriate. The order could be varied at the same time if the courts feel it necessary.

What is supervised contact?

Sometimes it’s agreed that contact should take place at the home of another person or in the presence of someone else. It’s common for the parents to agree that a grandparent, relative or mutual friend should be present. There are also Contact Centres where contact can take place. For more information call the National Association of Child Contact Centres on 0845 4500 280 or at www.naccc.org.uk (link is external)

Some rules for maintaining successful contact

What about birthdays, Christmas and holidays?
Parents need to reach agreement on who has contact on these important dates. It is common to take turns. If an application to court is made you can request that these dates be set out in the Order.

Can I take my child where I want?
Generally, yes, but it may not be wise to take the child somewhere the other parent would strongly object to - this may result in arguments and seeking legal advice. If you wish to take your child on holiday outside England and Wales you should seek the consent of the other parent.

Can I take my child for a haircut or to get their ears pierced?
Again, yes, but these are issues that can cause disagreement between parents so it's unwise to do it without discussion.

Changing pre-arranged times
A parent should be able to change times by discussion and agreement with the other parent if no court is in place. Once agreed, the times should be respected. If there is a court order in place you can request the changes and if the other person agrees put the change in writing. If the other person does not agree your only other option is making an application to the Courts for variation of the Order.

Can the non-resident parent be forced to have contact?
It is not possible to force a parent to have contact. If a Child Arrangements Order is in place and the parent is choosing not to see the child, you need to think whether you should make an application to end (discharge) the order.

Can I pick my child up from school?
If the non-resident parent doesn’t usually pick the child up from school, they shouldn’t do it without agreeing with the resident parent first. A parent is likely to be very unhappy about an unscheduled pickup and may tell the school that only one person has permission to collect the child. Taking a child from school without agreement can also cause the resident parent to take legal advice.  However legally if you have Parental Responsibility and there is no court order in place you are entitled to do so. 

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