There have been many studies about the impact parental separation may have on children. This can make worrying reading for parents considering separation or divorce, but forming a parenting plan which is right for your family can make a world of difference. A good contact agreement should ideally:
- Enable children to safely spend time with both parents
- Work with the child’s schooling and activities
- Work with each parent’s capabilities, employment, and their other responsibilities
- Form a reliable structure for day-to-day life
There’s no single model for contact agreements, different arrangements will work for different families. However, this post aims to introduce you to a few models which can be tried by families. We will additionally discuss matters which should be considered when building a parenting plan, and how you can proceed if you struggle to agree with your ex.
Examples of Child Contact Agreements
Shared Parenting Arrangements
An arrangement is generally thought of as “shared parenting” when a child has a home in both parent’s houses and each parent has the child at least 40% of time. This can also sometimes be called Shared Residence.
In many cases, this is achieved through a regular split of time during the working week, leaving you with a schedule that might look something like this:
As you can see in this example, family, friends, or childcare may be able to help with responsibilities such as picking a child up from school, if you aren’t able to accomplish this within your work schedule.
Alternatively, it might make sense in your situation for the child to spend alternate weeks or fortnights at each parent’s accommodation. This may make it more difficult to establish a consistent routine for your child. However, some families find that a longer time in each home can help children to settle down into their time with each parent more easily, and it can mean less regular interactions between parents.
Another popular option is sometimes known as the “2-2-5-5” schedule.
In this routine, the child spends two days with each parent, followed by 5 days with each parent. This creates a consistent bi-weekly schedule with predictable “switch” days, but also allows parents to spend alternate weekend days with any children.
Depending on your relationship with your ex, you could also schedule times where both of you spend time together with your child or children. For example, a family dinner or outing every two weeks.
For shared parenting to work best, you need good quality communication and organisation between both households and a degree of flexibility.
Other Split Parenting Arrangements
Depending on your agreement, child arrangement rulings, or practicality, you may come to an arrangement where both parents continue to live locally to the child, but the child has one primary home where they spend the majority of their time.
Spending 3 days per week with a non-resident parent creates an almost-equal 60/40 split. Spending 2 days per week with a non-resident parent brings them down to having the child 30% of the time.
Here is an example of how that may look in practise:
Some families prefer an arrangement where children specifically spend every weekend with their non-resident parent. Since weekends are typically less structured, this can lessen the amount of organisation both parents need to do together in regards to school and activities. However, if both parents work a 9-5, this can mean the resident parent spends less leisure time with the children, and may be more restricted in terms of trips away and activities, so it is something which should be considered carefully.
With all split parenting arrangements, you may need to compromise on approaches to parenting or your child’s routine which you wouldn’t choose yourself.
You will also need to communicate about anything which occurred during your child’s time with you which may have affected them or changed their normal routine. In addition, you may need to consistently work together with your ex to make sure your child is able to fulfil their commitments, prepared with the correct equipment.
Child Arrangements when a parent requires Supervised Contact
In some cases, a children and family court will rule that a non-resident parent can only contact their child under particular circumstances. This is often because a parent is either re-entering their child’s life after an absence, or because a parent’s past behaviour (for example, violence or drug abuse) brings the child’s safety into question.
If this occurs, the time spent with the non-resident parent will be scheduled beforehand, and it is important that both parents stick closely to the arrangements as much as they can. If either parent does need to make a change to dates or times, this should be communicated as early as possible.
These visits may happen at the home of a friend or family member. They may alternatively take place at a Child Contact Centre.
Court rulings may also affect how a parent can contact their other ways, such as letters, phone, and video call. In recent years, centres have also begun offering supervised video calls for parents and relatives who live far away or are less mobile.
When planning arrangements with your child’s second parent, it’s important not to forget to consider how arrangements will change in the event of any type of holiday. These can include religious holidays, school holidays, and bank holidays, or trips abroad.
These are times when the usual routines may change due to elements such as different work hours or child care needs. During religious holidays, parents may also feel it is important to spend quality time with their children on days outside their normal contact times.
If a parent often only sees their children for a few days at a time, the school holidays might mark a time when they wish to change to a weekly or bi-weekly split.
If a parent would like to take their child on a holiday abroad, they may need permission from the other parent unless they have a “live with” order. You can find out more about this with our blog: “Should I let my children go on holiday abroad this summer?”.
Long Distance Arrangements
Children regularly switching households isn’t always an option when one parent lives further away.
Depending on how long-distance a parent lives, in-person contact may be restricted to regular weekends every month or so. While young children’s schedules are more flexible, school-aged children may only be able to visit distantly situated parents during the holidays.
Where this is the case, it is important to encourage other means of contact where possible, as this will help the child to continue to have a relationship with both parents.
This is often achieved through video calls, messages, or online activities. These are likely to look very different depending on the child’s age. Younger children may also need a greater degree of input from a resident parent to plan these calls or activities, whereas older children may be able to manage the relationship more independently. Some families also like to use letters, postcards, or care packages to stay in touch.
Contact with Grandparents and Other Family Members
In many cases, the contact a child has with any grandparents and other non-parent relations is spoken about when separated parents draw up a parenting plan, or occurs naturally as part of daily life when a child is a resident at different parent’s houses.
You might include the involvement of other relations or family friends when deciding where your child will spend their time. For example, if a parent’s new spouse is going to collect your child from nursery on certain days, or regular sleepovers with aunties, uncles, older siblings, or grandparents. Extended family can enrich a child’s life, as well as helping parents with tight spots in their routine and emotional support.
The situation can become more complicated when one or more parents doesn’t wish the child to have contact with a relation, or if they will only consent to extremely limited contact.
Extended relations including uncles, aunts, grandparents, and siblings don’t have an automatic right to access a child. However, they may still wish for it and, if you are unable to come to an agreement, they can apply to the courts for permission to apply for a Court Order. If the court agrees, they will consider whether the child would benefit from contact with the person, and what kind of contact would be in their best interests.
The court might decide that only indirect contact (phone calls and letters, for example) would be of benefit. In this case, a resident parent might be expected to ensure that the child receives the correspondence, and to encourage the child to reply.
If the court decides the child should have face-to-face contact with the person, this time should be included in your regular routine with the child and their other parent.
Most parenting plans and routines change over time, so don’t be afraid to bring up making some amendments with your child’s other parent if yours is no longer working quite right. What’s important is that you are ensuring your child retains valuable relationships, and that you continue to meet the requirements of any Child Arrangements Order.
Larger changes may be needed when someone with significant contact time with your child changes job or location, or if you fear your child is no longer safe with a parent or relative. If this means an existing Child Arrangements Order will no longer be viable, you can apply to change it. If there are changes in where a child resides, there may also need to be changes in Child Maintenance payments. You can find more information about this in our Child Arrangements blog.
If there is not a Child Arrangement order in place, you can adapt the parenting plan as you wish according to life changes and the child’s needs, as long as the child’s best interests are kept in mind. However, this is always best done in agreement with the child’s other parent as far as possible, to avoid disruptive conflict or legal action.
Agreeing on a Parenting Plan
Some separated parents are able to maintain a casual arrangement in regards to their children. However, ensuring that all the details have been thought about and that the legal implications of any agreement have been considered can mean there are less problems down the line.
CAFCASS provide some excellent resources to get started with. Their parenting plan template includes issues you may not have thought of discussing, and encourages constructive discussion before considering court proceedings.
Family solicitors can offer guidance about your child contact arrangements, and can help you to negotiate with the other parent if you are struggling to reach an agreement. They can also assist with links to mediators, cafcass officers, family counsellors, or barristers where necessary
Additionally, family lawyers can help you to turn casual “kitchen table” parenting agreements into legally binding commitments through consent orders. This can help everyone involved fully commit to an arrangement and provide a life for the child which feels predictable and secure.
You can also pursue legal help if somebody with access to your child is taking actions concerning them which you do not agree with. If discussions are not successful, you may be able to protect your child’s best interests through a Prohibited Steps Order or Specific Issue Order.
Harbour Family Law are a specialist firm of Family Law Solicitors with 3 offices in the wider Bristol Area. We are committed to respectful resolutions which uphold the best outcome for children and families, and have strong links to collaborative law and Resolution.