Child Contact

A child has a right to spend time and have contact with both parents. It is primarily the child’s right, not the parent’s. A court would regulate these by way of a child arrangements order. The amount of time will depend on the child’s age and the practical arrangements. Typical examples for time with the parent with whom the child does not live could look as follows:

  • baby: a couple of hours each Saturday morning,
  • young toddler: a day each weekend: with very young children who have a short memory span frequent shorter contact is better than longer periods further apart
  • young children: alternate weekends with one night overnight and maybe an evening each week
  • older children: alternate weekends with overnight time, maybe from Friday night to Sunday night; there could be additionally one night overnight time a week; some parents agree Thursday nights, which would then provide a continuous long weekend every other weekend. There are no hard and fast rules and a lot will depend on how far apart the parents live and how long it takes to get the child’s school. It usually is easier for everyone if the same week days during the school week (Monday to Thursday) are spent with each parent, especially when the child has activities, because the child then knows, for example, which parent takes them to football, ballet, piano lessons on Thursdays etc. because it is always the same one.
  • teenagers often have sport or other weekend activities, and time with parents must be planned around those. The court will not force a teenager over 14 to spend time with the other parent and at least from the age of about 12 the court takes the child’s wishes and feelings strongly into account. These are ascertained by a CAFCASS report.
  • In addition there would be holiday contact during school holidays, which would be shared, but would depend again on practical issues such as the parents’ working pattern and holidays they can take from work.
  • One should not forget to agree on arrangements for general and family holidays such as Christmas, other religious holidays (if they are important in the child’s life) and the birthdays of the child, the parents and siblings.

The court can also order other contact, such as telephone, video phone (Skype), or indirect contact (reports from a parent to another parent about the child).

Child arrangement orders or agreements about the time a child spends with someone should always take into account the situation immediately beforehand. Depending on the previous situation the commencement of contact may vary considerably, for example if parents separate when a child is 12 months old and the father took paternity leave and was actively involved with nappy changing and other day-to-day and night-to-night care, there may already be overnight contact from the beginning (probably expressed as the child living with the father for those days). On the other hand, if a father has not seen his children for five years and they are at primary school age, there would probably only be daytime contact for the first few weeks and overnight contact would be eased in slowly over a six-month period or so. It will always very much depend on the individual circumstances.

The introduction of child arrangement orders in April 2014 should promote arrangements for shared care.

If the parents live further away from each other or even in different countries, the pattern would of course be quite different. In these cases time with a parent is likely to be less frequent but longer. In addition telephone and internet video-phone contact (e.g. via Skype etc.) could form part of the arrangement or order. Often it can be surprisingly cheap to arrange contact in international cases if there is a budget airline flying between the two cities and dates are arranged well in advance.

Typical Questions

How much time am I entitled to?

The court decides this based on the child’s welfare and contact time in English law is not an entitlement of a parent. For examples see above. However, how contact is ordered depends very much on the discretion of a particular judge.

Can I see my children?

Yes, if you are a legal parent of the child, whether married to the mother or unmarried, you can make an application to the court for contact. You do not have to have parental responsibility to make the application. The same applies to co-mothers, lesbian partners of the mother. If you are not a legal parent, you may need permission from the court first.

If the mother moves abroad with the children, can I still see them?

Yes, the mother may need permission (from you or from the court) to relocate before she can move. As a condition the English court may order contact as part of a child arrangements order and such an order will be directly enforceable anywhere in the European Union under EU law. Similar provisions apply for some other countries under the 1996 Hague Convention on Parental Responsibility and the Protection of Children.

It is always best to try to avoid court proceedings of course because the judge can only make an order. An order does not enforce itself and if someone does not comply with the order or takes a “work-to-rule” approach, matters can continue to be difficult. There will also be issues arising in the future of a child’s life where parents have to work together.

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10 February 2015 by Andrea Woelke