Agreeing on Child Contact Arrangements

Co-parenting after a relationship breakdown can have its challenges under ordinary circumstances, let alone during a pandemic. In many cases, parents have found themselves confused as to what lockdown restrictions allow or in dispute with their ex-partner over how visitation arrangements should continue.

In an ideal world, parents are able to put their differences aside and reach a consensus as to what’s best for their children. However, life is often not that straightforward. Holidays and the festive season are times when wrangles over contact commonly flare up. With Christmas on the horizon, here are some things to consider if you find yourself struggling to arrange visitation over the holidays and beyond.

Coming to an agreement together

Keeping the lines of communication open, where possible, is an important part of co-parenting. While it may be difficult to set your personal feelings aside, especially if the break-up was acrimonious, the key is to try and prioritise the wishes and welfare of your children.

If you are able to hold constructive discussions, writing things down in a parenting plan is a good idea, so that everyone knows where they are. It’s useful to set out a clear schedule to achieve clarity and give your children the opportunity to share in important family occasions and spend quality time with both of you, where possible. However, it’s also important to be willing to change arrangements to a certain degree, when needed. A sudden emergency can happen to either party – it benefits both sides to be prepared to act reasonably should the unexpected happen.

Seeking expert help

If you have genuine safety concerns for your children, or you and your ex-partner simply can’t agree on contact arrangements, it’s time to seek professional help.

Find a good local family law solicitor who can give you practical advice and take you through your legal options. Their knowledge and experience can be invaluable in helping you reach mutual agreement without having to get the courts involved, particularly if they are skilled mediators.

Mediation can be very effective. In fact, before commencing legal action, the courts generally require parents to undergo a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (although there are certain circumstances where this may not be applicable - see exemptions here).

A neutral third party can help you come to an agreement on things like the form contact takes and how time with the child or children is divided between parents. The process can be carried out together or apart if one party is not comfortable being in the same room as the other. A mediation document drawn up as a result of this process isn’t legally binding but can be made so in the form of a consent order, which your solicitor can draw up for you.

Where mediation fails, or is not a viable option, parents can apply to the courts to rule on contact arrangements. Every case is assessed on its own merits – you may be ordered to make further attempts at mediation or attend a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP). The court’s priority is to put the children at the centre of the process. This means considering the child’s wishes and wellbeing, their educational needs, any risk of harm, the potential impact of any changes on the child and the parents’ ability to fulfil their needs.

Once an order has been made regarding child arrangements, it can be enforced if either parent fails to comply with its terms. It should be noted that changing a court order is a far less flexible process than amending a parenting plan or mediation agreement. While taking matters before the courts may be the only option in some circumstances, trying to settle matters before they get that far is often the most sensible course of action.

Trusted family lawyers

At Rowberry Morris, our experienced and compassionate family law team understand the co-parenting difficulties ex-partners face, especially at this time of year. We’re here to listen and give the legal support that empowers you to put your children first.  If you are having trouble agreeing on contact arrangements with a former partner, or simply want to make a current agreement more formal, please get in touch with your nearest Rowberry Morris office.

You can also visit the Cafcass website for the latest information regarding child contact and Coronavirus.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.