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Agreeing contact with children in divorce

When a relationship breaks down parents will need to reach an agreement on the arrangements for their children.

It is usual for the child to live with one parent and spend time with the other. In this article, we look at what to do when divorced parents need to decide how much time the child spends with each parent. 

Defining reasonable contact

The time the non-resident parent spends with the child is known as contact. Contact should only be restricted where it is necessary to protect the interests of the child. Parents should have ‘reasonable’ contact which will depend on what is in the child’s best interests. However, the precise interpretation of ‘reasonable’ will differ from family to family. There is no legal definition as to what would amount to ‘reasonable contact’ and it will depend on individual family circumstances.

Contact on special occasions

Usually parents can agree on contact arrangements, but it can be particularly difficult for separated parents around special occasions. This is especially pertinent given that Father’s Day will soon be upon us. As the usual routine can be disrupted, separated parents should try and be flexible. Hopefully, separated parents will be able to agree that the child spend time with their father on Sunday June 16 2019, despite any contact arrangements which are currently in place.

If parents are unable to agree, then a family lawyer may be able to assist in amending the pattern of contact either through mediation, negotiation or through the courts as a last resort for the contact to be specified in a court order. Before issuing a court application you have to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) unless an exception applies.

The child’s best interests are paramount

The court will ultimately be looking at what is in the child’s best interests and will consider a list of factors, called the welfare checklist, when deciding whether to make a court order. The factors include:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding)
  • Physical, emotional and educational needs
  • The likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances
  • Age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant
  • Any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering
  • How capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs
  • The range of powers available to the court

Sometimes the breakdown of the parents’ relationship with each other can result in the loss of contact between a parent and child. It is essential to take expert advice in these circumstances so that short term or transient problems can be overcome quickly, and contact reinstated.

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