Family Law, Divorce, Separation
Contact with children
You may be in the first throes of divorce proceedings or you may have just left your partner but want to see your children as much as possible and soon. Following this initial period of upset, you and your partner’s attention will quickly turn to the ongoing arrangements for the children in the short and long term. You will need to consider the mechanics of the contact –does the school day need to be catered for, or do each parent’s working patterns have to be considered? Are the children old enough and do you live close enough to them, so that they have some independence and can chose how much time they spend with you?
Ideally you would hope to agree arrangements with your former partner or spouse but sometimes that is impractical. You both want what is best for your children but that does not necessarily mean that you will agree what that is. Mediation can help with the process of trying to agree the way forward and since April 2011 couples who are divorcing are expected to consider mediation at a mediation information and assessment meeting. But what if mediation breaks down or one of you decides that mediation is not the way forward for you? What if you cannot agree how much you should see your children?
The Family Court
An application can be made to the Family Court for a residence or a contact order. Your child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration when considering what orders it should make. The court will then go on to consider a number of factors, in no particular order, but which include the child’s wishes and feelings, their physical, emotional and educational needs, the likely effect of any change in the child’s circumstances, the child’s age, sex, background and characteristics, any harm or risk of harm and the capability of both parents to meet the child’s needs
Residence or a contact order
Contact is the right of the child not the parent, so how much your children see or stay with you will depend upon what is in their interests, not yours. Each situation is different and the court can make a variety of different contact orders either in the interim or as a final order. The contact ordered can be direct, for example, visits, overnight stays, face-to-face meetings, or indirect, for example, by letter, by telephone or by email. The court also has powers to promote, monitor and enforce contact. If there are any allegations of domestic violence, the court may wish to consider whether these allegations are correct before going on to make a contact order.
The court will only make an order if it is better for your child to be the subject of an order than not. The judge may believe that it is better to have an order so that each parent knows what will happen and there can be no misunderstandings. Only 10 per cent of contact arrangements are set out in a contact order which suggests that most parents can sort out contact arrangements before the issue finally comes before the court.
Each case is unique
The court does not favour mothers over fathers or vice versa but each judge brings their individual attitudes to a particular situation, which will differ from case to case. It is now quite rare for one parent not to be allowed any contact with their children. In fact shared residence orders are becoming more common, rather than using the labels of contact and residence, even when the time spent with each parent is unequal.
It is unwise to compare your circumstances against anyone else’s. The best thing you can do is take proper advice from an experienced family lawyer who can advise you fully as to the various options and the agreement or order that best suits you and your children.
- Booklets for parents who are separating
- Matters relating to Children: FAQ
- Cohabitation agreements
- Collaborative family law
- Divorce and financial settlements
- Divorce from a co-director or business partner
- Domestic abuse — definitions and signs
- Injunctions used to protect against domestic abuse
- Pension sharing and divorce