Contact and living arrangements for children

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When parents separate

You will need to sort out arrangements for your child. Do not allow your emotions to impact on the arrangements for your children. You must put them first.

Where to start?

A good place to start thinking about this is the Parenting Plan. This contains ideas and ways in which you can help yourself and your child.

It is usually in a child’s best interest to maintain contact with both parents. Reassure your child who is likely to be feeling upset and anxious. Take some time to really listen to your child about what they need – there is advice about how to do this in the Parenting Plan.

It is important that you do not seek to punish your ex-partner by denying them contact with their child, unless of course there are concerns that the child would not be safe.

Safety concerns

Parents are responsible for keeping their children safe.

If you are concerned that your child is not safe with your ex-partner or other family member, it is your responsibility to take protective action. This may include:

  • stopping your child from seeing your ex-partner or other family members where your child’s safety would be compromised
  • asking for a third party to assist with handovers
  • asking for handovers to take place away from the home address
  • asking for communication to be restricted to arrangements for your child
  • limiting communicating to text messages
  • using a child contact centre (which provide supervised and supported contact, there are often costs involved).

Child contact centres may be appropriate for your child to spend time with your ex-partner for a short period of time. They are not intended for long-term use. The National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) has information and advice about safe supported and supervised contact.

If a court order is in place for arrangements for your child

If a child arrangement order, a contact order or a residence order is in place, and you have safety concerns for your child while they’re with their other parent, you should seek legal advice.

Will we need a Court Order?

It is likely that you will share Parental Responsibility with your ex-partner for your child. A child’s mother always has Parental Responsibility (unless a Court Order has removed this). A child’s father also has Parental Responsibility if his name is on the birth certificate or he was married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth.

If you share Parental Responsibility, your ex-partner is entitled to information about your child’s education and health. There is also the presumption that they should continue to be involved in their life and spend time with them.

Unless the reason was for your child’s welfare, reducing or stopping time with the other parent after you separate can affect your child’s emotional wellbeing.

So, in most cases parents don’t need a Court Order about child arrangements (where a child lives and spends time).

Where there are disputes about arrangements for your child, neither of you have more rights than the other to make decisions. However, if you are your child’s main carer and no court order is in place, you are responsible for keeping your child safe. This may mean you form a view about how the child arrangements are made.

Where safe, it is usually best for parents to agree arrangements for their children outside of the family courts. Evidence suggests these arrangements are more successful than those reached during court proceedings.

Help with the way forward

If you do not agree on the way forward, you can seek help in the following ways:

See What is family mediation? for advice and Legal Aid Support with the costs of family mediation.

  • Legal advice and other forms of dispute resolution - There are specialist Family Lawyers who can help with all aspects of finding a way forward. In most cases lawyers will see going to court as being a last resort. Agreement is usually a better, more satisfactory and durable way forward. You can learn more about this from Resolution. There is no Legal Aid for solicitor advice in Family Law.

You can access free legal advice from Coram Children’s Legal Centre.

In most cases an application to Court will be a last resort. The Court expects you to explore all other reasonable and safe options first, including both parties seeing a Family Mediator. A Court Order does not necessarily sort out the underlying issues.


Either parent can make the application. However, you cannot issue an application to enforce a parent’s involvement in their child’s life if they do not want this.

In cases where there is an immediate threat to a child’s or adult’s safety you may need to get a court order urgently.

You can find more about family courts on the Courts and Tribunals website, or find your family court using the Court Finder.

When to contact Children's Services

Contact the Single Point of Advice if:

  • we are already providing you with Early Help or social care support
  • you are concerned that your child’s safety is at risk and you are unable to protect them.
  • you need support or advice.