Maintaining contact

Here we examine:
the laws affecting your children in divorce
help if you have problems making arrangements to see them
what the courts consider.

There is also information if you fear the other parent may abduct them abroad.

Scroll down for: My Dream Mum and Dad

Parental responsibility and Children Act 1989
The Children Act 1989 says that the child's welfare is the most important consideration. The old word "access" has been replaced by contact. This can refer to contact by letter, phone and actual visits. "Custody" has been replaced by residence.

The Act describes parental responsibility rather than parents' rights. Mothers automatically have parental responsibility. If you were married when the child was born, both of you will have parental responsibility for the child. If the child was born after 1 December 2003, and the father is named on the child's birth certificate, he will also have automatic parental responsibility.

How can a father obtain parental responsibility?
Otherwise, a father can acquire it by formal agreement with the child's mother or by order of the court.

What does parental responsibility mean?
Parental responsibility is defined as the rights, duties and responsibilities associated with parenthood. It means that you are both responsible for the following:

  • protecting and maintaining your child
  • naming the child -choosing the school
  • making sure he goes to school from age 5 to 16
  • making sure they receive medical treatment
  • appointing a guardian to act after death
  • applying for a passport
  • representing the child
  • deciding where he is to live
  • choosing the child's religion

Who has financial responsibility?
A parent has financial responsibility for the child until he reaches the age of 17 or leaves full-time education, whichever is the latter. There is no "clean break" (an end to providing financial support) between parents and children. This is the law.

If I don't see my child, do I still have to pay?
A child's father (or mother) is obliged to pay for this support whether or not there is any contact. The two issues are entirely separate but in reality disagreements about maintenance sometimes lead to problems with contact. On the other hand, a father who has regular contact is more likely to pay maintenance on a regular basis. Try to keep these two issues separate and discuss them at separate times.

Violence and psychological abuse
If violence or psychological abuse caused your separation, this behaviour is likely to continue and even get worse. Controlling behaviour and abuse are also likely to affect the child at contact times and afterwards. Your physical and mental safety is crucial for your child's wellbeing. Please see Domestic Violence to find round-the-clock expert advice and be safe.

I am afraid the other parent will take my child abroad.
If you are afraid that your child may be abducted across an international border by one parent or by someone with parental responsibility, contact reunite. Details below.
What is international parental child abduction?
The removal or retention of a child across an international border by one parent (or person who has parental responsibility), which is either in contravention of a court order or without the written consent of the other parent (or person who has parental responsibility).
Is it a criminal offence for one parent to abduct a child? In most circumstances, YES! Reunite is the leading UK charity specialising in international parental child abduction. They provide advice, information and support to parents, family members and guardians who have had a child abducted or who fear child abduction. They also provide advice to parents who may have abducted their child as well as advising on international contact issues.

For further details see their website at or call their advice line on
0116 2556 234. From abroad, call +44 116 2556 234. Please mention Divorce Aid.

What can we do if we can't agree about our children?
If under normal circumstances, you are unable to agree on contact arrangements, to put your children first, to compromise, to maintain some stability, to allow your child to continue to love both parents, mediation could be the best option. This is so much better than 'going to court' which may be costly, lengthy and distressing to all concerned.

Are there any leaflets to help us talk to our children?
Yes, there's a Parenting Plan and leaflets for your children too. These are available at Family Leaflets

What is mediation?
A mediator is a trained professional who listens to both parents' wishes and concerns and tries to help you both come to some arrangement about contact. (Mediation is also used in disputes regarding where the child should live, 'residence', and other issues such as finances and property. Ask your solicitor or mediator if you are eligible for public funding.
For more details please see our Legal section.
Again, if you are in fear of violence, this is not the course for you to take.

How can I find a mediator?
You can either request a mediator through your solicitor or contact The Family Mediation Helpline

The Family Mediation Helpline is staffed by specially trained operators who provide:
general information on family mediation
advice on whether your case may be suitable for mediation
information about eligibility for public funding
contact details for mediation services in your local area

Phone: 0845 60 26 627

Website: Mediation/Divorce Aid

In Scotland, contact:
Family Mediation Scotland
127 Rose Street,
South lane,
Tel: 0131 226 4507

Mediation not possible at the moment?
Even if this does not seem feasible at the moment, you can bear this in mind for later when your emotions are more settled. Always remember to talk to your child. What does she want? Are you making her unhappy?

What if mediation fails or we can't agree?
If mediation and all other communication fail, including talking to you child and listening to him, you may have to consider Court action.

How do the courts decide?
Again, the Courts base their decisions on the Children Act which emphasises the welfare of the child. The Court will only make an order if it is in the best interests of the child.
It is not your 'access' to the child that is paramount; it is what is best for the child.

Which factors are taken into account by the courts?
The Courts consider the following factors:

  • the child's feelings and wishes, depending on his age
  • the physical, emotional and educational needs of the child
  • the likely effect of any changes in his circumstances
  • the age, sex and background and any characteristics which the Court considers relevant
  • any harm which the child may have suffered or is at risk of suffering
  • how capable each of the parents is of meeting the child's needs (this may include other involved people).

Will I need a solicitor?
You will need a solicitor for this legal process which may be lengthy and costly, unless you are able to receive funding from the Community Legal Service. Details about how to find a family solicitor and other information are in our Legal section. Recommended books are in our Books section. Read on for more information, especially in our Children and Teenager sections, which may help you both to come to some agreement. If you haven't already read through the Emotions section, this may help you to understand each other better.

Where can I find out about the Courts?
CAFCASS - Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service has its own excellent website with sections for children, teenagers, parents and families.
CAFCASS looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. It works with children and their families, and then advises the courts on what it considers to be in the children's best interests. CAFCASS only works in the family courts.
See CAFCASS Website

Gwasanaeth Cynghori a Chynorthwyo Llys i Blant a Theuluoedd
Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
(CAFCASS) CYMRU and services in Urdu

NACCC - National Association of Child Contact Centres
This association keeps 2000 children in touch with both parents each week through a network of child contact centres.

What should be your goal?
Remember that you are both working towards establishing a parenting agreement that will benefit your child.
This is not about any other disagreement you may have.
Although you may think that "fighting" over your child shows your child how much you love him, this is not the case. A child, like the Courts, will be waiting for you to co-operate together. Arrangements which are agreed between are more likely to be honoured.

Time is a healer; things will get better if you try to stop hurting each other. Stand back and reflect. Try to see everything through the eyes of a child.

My Dream Mum and Dad

1. They would let each other see their children as much and as often as they can.

2. It would be great if Mum and Dad just got along – not even as friends would be ok.

3. They would encourage the children to have a good time with the other parent.

4. They would not swear at their children.

5. They might punish their children a bit if they are naughty and that’s OK. But they wouldn’t hit us.

6. They will appreciate and love their children by telling them so when they come up and stay or call up and talk.

7. They would try to create a home where the children would look forward to coming back and want to call them up.

8. They would talk about parent things with each other and not talk to the children about parent things.

9. They would swap or share birthdays and Christmases in a helpful way without getting angry with each other.

10. They would keep their promises to us.

11. They would not bad-mouth each other.

12. When they get angry with each other it messes up their love for us. Hating each other makes it harder for the children.

13. They would both talk to all our teachers – maybe not together though.

14. They would be really busy loving their children, not fighting over them. They would know that there was enough of their children to love and go around for everyone.

15. They would each sit down with their children from time to time and ask them “How is it going?” and “How could it be better?”

16. Parents should have to go for a tune-up from time to time for being separated parents. How else do they know how they are doing?

We were sent this piece but were not given any details of the author but would be pleased to publish details if informed.

P.S. Could be this: Taken from Narrative Mediation: A new approach to dispute resolution, J. Winslade and G. Monk (2002)

"The talk of the child in the market place is either that of his father or of his mother."
Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 56b

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