Child Contact Advice for separated parents

The Safeguarding Hub is often contacted by parents and carers for information and advice around the following topics. Provided here is information and advice around child contact arrangements and information around where you can get further support on specific issues. 

Always contact the Safeguarding Hub 0333 240 1727 if you have a safeguarding concern for a Child.

If there is an immediate concern for a Child or persons welfare/safety then call the Police immediately on 999.

Separation may involve bad feelings between parents and their families. Children can pick up on this, which may make them confused or unhappy – or even blame themselves for a break-up.

To support children during a separation and help them with their worries, you should:

  • remind them that they're loved by both parents
  • be honest when talking about it, but keep in mind the child's age and understanding
  • avoid blame and don't share any negative feelings the adults have about each other
  • keep up routines such as going to school and specific meal times
  • let them know they can talk about their feelings with you – explain that it's okay to be sad, confused or angry
  • listen more than you speak – answering questions will help them to open up.

Remember your Children will be shaped by how their Parents behave towards them and each other.

The Separated Parents Information Program is a useful resource for those struggling with separation and can be found by following this link –

https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/divorce-and-separation/separated-parents-information-programme/

A mediator can help you and your ex-partner agree on child arrangements, without taking sides.

Mediation is not relationship counselling. It can help you agree on the details of how you’ll look after your children, such as:

  • where they live
  • when they spend time with each parent
  • when and what other types of contact take place (phone calls, for example)
  • child maintenance payments

There are two types of Mediation firstly formally via a Family Law route, which does have a cost attached and is facilitated by an independent body. It involves each parent attending a session individually and then together. Family Law Courts often ask that a couple attend meditation prior to attending court in the hope that child contact arrangements can be agreed in mediation & the Court process avoided. At the end of mediation you’ll get a document showing what you agreed. This agreement is not legally binding. You can make it legally binding by getting a solicitor to draft a consent order for a court to approve after mediation.

Secondly some parents sit down with a family member or friend and do mediation, to avoid the Court process and attached costs. Some parents find it useful to write and both sign a child care agreement/contract. (Although this is not a legal document it can help).

It is important to note that sometimes it is not appropriate for mediation to take place for example if there has been Domestic Abuse within a relationship.

What is supervised contact?

Supervised contact is used when it has been determined by a court that a child is at risk of suffering harm during contact with a parent or parents. The court will usually refer the case to a CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) officer, local authority or another child contact centre.

Sometimes Families feel supervised   contact is the best way to safeguard a child and agree this within the family unit without Court intervention. Where appropriate supported contact can take place within the Family and Friend network. This can be facilitated by a Grandparent, Uncle or Family Friend at their home, the family home or a public place. This can be more relaxed for all involved and easier to organise and maintain.

Contact Centre’s near to you can be found at – https://naccc.org.uk/help-for-adults/types-of-contact/supervised-contact

Supervised contact Top Tips:

  • Accept at the outset supervised contact is not a long-term solution. The aim is to initiate contact so contact will evolve to unsupervised contact.
  • Decide on the ground rules for supervised contact before the first visit. Are there going to be conditions in addition to supervision?
  • Dos and Don’ts need to be clear to both parents so that contact does not breakdown because of mis-communication.
  • Ask a relative or friend if they are prepared to be a supervisor and for how long and how often? Do not assume. Supervision is a big responsibility.
  • Find out information about local contact centres and the centre that best suits your needs.
  • Remember the Court’s view is that children’s best interests usually mean having a relationship with both parents so no contact at all is rarely ordered by a Court.


If you are going to Breach a Court Order by not adhering to what the judge has set out e.g.) take the decision not to send your Child to agreed contact, you must have a valid reason and be prepared to explain your actions to the Court who issued the Order. It may be beneficial if you do intend to Breach the Order to write to the Court of issue and explain your actions.

If the court enforces the order.

Depending on your situation and what you’ve asked the court to decide they might make:

  • An “enforcement order” this means your ex-partner has to do between 40 and 200 hours unpaid work.
  • An “order for compensation for financial loss” this means your ex-partner has to pay back any money you’ve lost because they did not follow the order. (for example if you missed a holiday)
  • You can go back to Court if your ex-partner still does not do as the court ordered.

Legal Advice is sometimes needed during the arrangement of child contact and can be a stressful and expensive process. You can contact a local Family Law Solicitor to find a legal adviser or Family Mediator or use http://find-legal-advice.justice.gov.ukthis external link will open in a new window.

You do not have to have legal representation and can represent yourself in Family Court. The Safeguarding Hub cannot offer any legal advice, but you can contact the Citizens Advice Bureau, who may offer some advice and signpost to local services who may be able to assist you. Also https://www.advicenow.org.uk/ has a variety of booklets/in depth guides including: representing yourself in court, applying for a Child Arrangement Order, family mediation and sorting child arrangements.

You may be able to get financial help (known as Legal Aid) to pay for non-court dispute resolution, &/or advice and representation at court, and to find a legal aid solicitor or mediator use the following link https://www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid

There are different types of Legal Aid:

  • Legal Help – A solicitor can advise you and negotiate with the other party but can’t represent at court.
  • Family Mediation – A Solicitor can help with negotiating with the other party through mediation.
  • Legal Representation – The solicitor can prepare your case and represent you in Court or arrange for a barrister to represent you in Court.


They will always put the welfare of children first. They will think about the-

  • Childs wishes and feelings.
  • Childs physical, emotional and educational needs.
  • Effect any changes may have on the child.
  • Childs age, gender, characteristics and background.
  • Possible risk of harm to the child.
  • Ability of parents to meet the child’s needs.
  • Orders the Court has the power to make.

A judge or Magistrate will only make an order if they think it’s in the child’s best interests.

To find a legal adviser or family mediator: http://find-legal-advice.justice.gov.ukthis external link will open in a new window

The Handover is when your Children will see the two Adults they love most, together. The last thing they want is arguing, point scoring or nastiness.

Sometimes Parents think that the Children won’t notice, especially if they are young. This is not true. It is likely the children will be in a heightened state of awareness, watching both Parents carefully. If the handover is handled badly, they can create stress and put Children off future contact.

A little planning can make Handover a more positive experience –

Acceptable venue 

Make sure the venue is suitable for all parties. If it can’t be at home, another family members home. Somewhere familiar to the child with toys and a television. This can be useful if you find it stressful seeing your ex-partner. If this is not an option then a fast food restaurant, a supermarket carpark or similar public place. Prepare yourself for how you will react if your ex-partner does or says something that annoys you. Try not to overreact or argue in front of the Children. It would be a sad end to what should be a happy time for the children.

Timekeeping

Lateness is the first opportunity for one of you to start a tit-for-tat argument. Be on time, or keep everyone informed if you have to be late. Plan how you will respond to any negative comments. If an important issues needs to be discussed try and arrange to speak about it later and don’t involve the children if it is not appropriate.

Keep Children Informed

Let the Children know the Handover arrangements well in advance so nothing comes as a surprise. Do not try and get your children to act as a spy on your ex-partner, or send messages from you via the children. At no time should a child be expected to choose between their Parents, or take sides. Tell them about contact and the plans. Do not set the Children up for something that is unlikely to happen, like a big trip away.

No Bad Mouthing

Children can be highly sensitive to hostility. Make no sarcastic comments, have offensive nicknames, or negativity towards their other parent. Do not spend your time with the children bad mouthing your ex. Do not interrogate them about new adult “friends” their other parent may have. Let the children volunteer information if they choose to. They will be watching to see if you get angry and will clam up at the first sign of a negative emotion. This time is about you and your children not what your former partner is doing.

Communication

Think about the impact of the handover on the children. Do you want to ruin their day with a gruff, silent handover? Try to make it a happy positive experience. Focus on the Children and not the grievances you may have with your ex.

A Parenting Diary can be an easy way to communicate between separated parents. Swap the diary back and forth at handover. Think about how you word things in the diary and avoid accusations and hostility. You could include parenting issues such as bedtime, sleep, food information. Health appointments, moods, homework etc.

Do grandparents have rights? Do you have a right to see your grandchildren by virtue of being closely related? The short answer to this is, no - grandparents do not have any automatic legal rights. You can, however, apply for rights to see your grandchildren under the 1989 Children's Act, providing you have leave from the courts to do so. To apply for permission apply for a court order called a C100. It is important to think very carefully before starting any legal proceedings as this is likely to sever relationships further.

If one or both of the parents are refusing to allow you contact with your grandchild, there are several ways to explain your case for emotional support:

  1. Show them that you miss your grandchild and that they will miss you.
  2. Explain the emotional and practical support you're offering, and show how useful that could be to the parents.
  3. Suggest that the child is consulted on how they feel about the contact arrangements (especially if you think the outcome will be positive).
  4. Remind them of the importance of grandparents in a child's understanding of their sense of self, personal identity and culture.
  5. Stress that genetic origin can be important to a child as they grow older, and denying the child contact with half of that origin could be upsetting or even confusing for the child. 

There are a number of different legal orders including: 

  • Special Guardianship Order - the court will appoint you as a 'Special Guardian' of your grandchild until they turn 18.
  • Child Arrangement Order - the court will decide where the child should live.
  • Kinship foster care - when you become an official foster carer for a child.
  • Adoption - this will break the link between your grandchild and their birth parents. You will legally become your grandchild's parent.


Cafcass https://www.cafcass.gov.uk – can access information and resources for parents and carers

Family Lives https://www.familylives.org.uk - or telephone 0808 800 2222

Grandparents Plus https://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk this external link will open in a new window

NSPCC https://www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/support-for-parents/separation-and-divorce/

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