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 is for parents. There's also help available for grandparents

You could get up to £500 towards family mediation

This is a scheme that provides a contribution to the cost of family mediation. It is only available for a limited time. A trained independent mediator will help you come to an agreement about your child arrangements.

Find out more about the family mediation voucher scheme.

This guide contains help on:

Preparing to make arrangements

Includes information on where to find emotional support and how to put your children's need first.

Reaching an agreement

Includes information on the different options you can use (such as mediation) to help you make an arrangement.

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

Single lawyer model

One lawyer will work with you and the other parent to manage your separation together without going to court. The lawyer does not take sides and will give you both legal advice together about how a court might deal with matters relating to your children and/or financial situation.

Choose Single lawyer model if...

You and the other parent are not in conflict, are keen to work together to arrive at an agreement and would benefit from joint professional legal advice.

Who's involved in Single lawyer model

  • Both parents
  • One lawyer for both parents

Read more about single lawyer model


In family arbitration, you and the other person choose a qualified, impartial professional to hear both of your views. They will then make a decision that you have agreed to be bound by to resolve your dispute.

Choose Arbitration if...

You want an independent professional to make a decision for you without going to court.

Who's involved in Arbitration

  • Both parents/carers
  • Arbitrator
  • Lawyers (if applicable)
  • Experts (if applicable)

Read more about arbitration

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