In an ideal world, separating parents would sit down and amicably agree future arrangements for their children. Break-ups, however, are often emotionally fraught situations and agreement cannot always be reached without outside help.
Fiona Yellowlees, Partner in the Family Department at WBW Solicitors, explains what steps you can take if you are having trouble making arrangements for seeing your children – and how a family lawyer can help.
What is contact and who is entitled to it?
Usually on separation or divorce, parents agree who the children will live with and how often they will see the other parent. This process is called ‘making arrangements for children’ and it will govern how much time they will spend with each parent and can include direct contact (face to face) or indirect contact (telephone calls, emails, Facetime etc).
Married couples or parents named on the birth certificate after December 2003 automatically have parental responsibility. But just because you have parental responsibility, this does not give you automatic right to contact: this is the right of the child, not the parent.
There is, however, an expectation under the law that the child will be afforded ‘reasonable contact’ with the non-resident parent, provided there are not special circumstances which make this untenable (for example, if domestic abuse is a factor, or the contact is likely to be harmful to the child).
What amounts to reasonable contact depends entirely on the family circumstances and the needs of the child – it may be every day in some situations or only a few times a year in others.
Court orders and mediation
If you and your former partner have agreed contact arrangements but you are being denied time with your child, you may need to go to court and request a ‘child arrangements order’. This sets out where your child lives; when your child spends time with each parent; and when and what other types of contact should take place.
Before you go to court, however, you may be required to attend a mediation session with your former partner. This will involve you sitting down with a trained, independent mediator who will help you and your former partner talk through the issues and try to come to some sort of agreement over contact arrangements without the matter having to go to court. However, you will not be required to try mediation if, for example, domestic abuse was experienced during your relationship.
If mediation fails, you can take your case to court and request a child arrangements order. Such an order is legally binding and if your former partner fails to comply with it, this amounts to contempt of court and they could, if they continually flout the order, be sent to prison for contempt.
How a solicitor can help
It is highly recommended that you seek immediate legal advice if you are being denied access to your child. An expert family lawyer will listen sympathetically to your story, explain your options, prepare you for any mediation sessions, and guide you through the process if you need to go to court. Court proceedings can take many months, and the summer holidays are not far away, so WBW recommend seeking advice and making or confirming arrangements as soon as possible
For further information, please contact Fiona Yellowlees in the Family Law team on 01626 202415 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. WBW Solicitors has 9 offices across Devon and Cornwall so we are only a short drive away should you ever need to visit us in person.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.