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Get help with child arrangements

Use this guide if you need to make or change child arrangements (also known as contact, access or custody) with the other parent. For example, you may need to decide where your children will live or rearrange the times they see you.

This guide contains help on:

Preparing to make arrangements
Includes information on where to find emotional support and how to put your children’s needs first.
Reaching an agreement
Includes information on the different options you can use (such as mediation) to help you make an arrangement.

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Transcript of ‘Make child arrangements’ video

This video can help you to understand your options and choose the most suitable way to make child arrangements if you separate from the other parent.

Child arrangements may also be known as contact, access or custody.

You may need to decide where your children will live, or arrange the times they see you or the other parent.

When making arrangements, there are different ways you could reach an agreement, including: negotiation, professional mediation and going to court.

Negotiation might be a good option when you have no safety concerns about you or the children – such as when there’s been no domestic abuse. And both parents still communicate and agree on the majority of issues.

Negotiation is where you and the other parent discuss, or communicate by letter or email, to agree arrangements between yourselves. In this option, both parents are involved.

So what are the pros and cons? Negotiation is the cheapest and quickest option; you and the other parent are in control; it helps children continue family relationships; and your agreements are flexible.

However, you’ll need a consent order to make an agreement legally binding; and the process heavily relies on parents co-operating, so it might not be suitable if you're not on amicable terms or if you think the other parent poses a threat to you or your children’s safety.

Professional mediation might be a good option when you have no safety concerns about you or the children and you both want to reach an agreement but need help from someone who is independent.

Mediation sessions are run by professionals who help you try to reach an agreement without going to court. It isn’t relationship counselling and you don’t have to be in the same room as the other parent. In this option, both parents are involved as well as a mediator.

The pros of professional mediation are that it’s quicker than court in most cases; it can be cheaper than using a lawyer; it can reduce conflict between parents; it helps children continue family relationships; and your agreements are flexible. However the cons are that you’ll need a consent order to make your agreement legally binding; and the process won’t work unless parents can co-operate.

You’ll need to go to court if you’ve tried other suitable options and still can’t agree arrangements, or you’re worried about the welfare of you or your children. This means a judge will decide based on your child’s best interest.

To go to court, you must show you’ve attended a meeting about mediation first - except in certain cases. For example, where there’s been domestic abuse.

This is the option that usually involves the most people. Both parents are involved, the judge and optionally a lawyer for each parent.

What are the pros and cons of applying for a court order? A decision is made in your child’s best interest; and it’s a legally binding outcome.

On the other hand, it can be expensive; the court process takes a long time; and you might not get what you want since a judge makes the decision.

It can be more stressful for you and your children; and it may increase conflict between you and the other parent.

For further information on preparing to make child arrangements and reaching an agreement, you can read the ‘Get help with child arrangements guide’. You can access it through the link above.

Preparing to make arrangements

Putting your children first

The needs of your children should come first when you make child arrangements with the other parent.

Most children will feel more secure if they have regular contact with their parents and know where to get extra support if they need it. If they understand the situation you should involve them in the decision-making.

Read more about putting your children first

Your parental responsibility

Parental responsibility is a term that means you have legal rights and duties relating to your children’s upbringing.

It doesn’t mean you have a right to spend time with your children (if you don’t live with them), but the other parent must include you when making important decisions about their lives.

Read more about your parental responsibility

Getting emotional support

Emotional support can help you get through the stress of making child arrangements.

You’re more likely to reach an agreement if you’re emotionally ready and know where to get support if you need it.

Read more about getting emotional support

Reaching an agreement

Negotiation tools and services

If there are no safety concerns, the cheapest and easiest way to make arrangements is to negotiate with the other parent. There are free tools and services that can help you.

Choose Negotiation tools and services if...

You both still communicate and agree on the majority of issues but may benefit from using a tool such as a parenting plan.

Who’s involved in Negotiation tools and services

  • Both parents

Read more about negotiation tools and services

Professional mediation

Mediation sessions are run by professionals who help you try to reach an agreement without going to court. It isn’t relationship counselling and you don’t have to be in the same room as the other parent.

Choose Professional mediation if...

You both want to reach an agreement but need help from someone who is independent.

Who’s involved in Professional mediation

  • Both parents
  • Mediator

Read more about professional mediation

Lawyer negotiation

You don’t have to deal directly with the other parent if you choose this option. You hire a lawyer to negotiate arrangements for you.

Choose Lawyer negotiation if...

Your relationship is still difficult and you’d prefer not to meet, or there’s a lack of trust.

Who’s involved in Lawyer negotiation

  • Lawyer for each parent

Read more about lawyer negotiation

Collaborative law

Collaborative lawyers work with you and the other parent to resolve your issues out of court. You each hire a lawyer then all meet to negotiate face-to-face.

Choose Collaborative law if...

You can still communicate with the other parent but may have complex legal issues to resolve.

Who’s involved in Collaborative law

  • Both parents
  • Lawyer for each parent

Read more about collaborative law

Going to court

You’ll need to go to court if you’ve tried other suitable options and still can’t agree arrangements, or you’re worried about the welfare of you or your children.

Choose Going to court if...

You want a court to make a decision or you have concerns about domestic abuse or child abuse.

Who’s involved in Going to court

  • Both parents
  • Mediator
  • Lawyer for each parent (optional)
  • Judge

Read more about going to court

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