Services to help arrange contact
Last updated: 16/02/2021
Often the best way to sort out how you and your child’s other parent share the care of your children is to talk about it.
There are no right or wrong arrangements. The best solution is the one that suits you, your ex-partner and the children. The parenting plan may help you do this, but it is not always easy. If you are having difficulty talking face to face you could try emailing or texting each other. Although this is not ideal it may be quicker and less expensive than using more formal services. If you cannot talk to each other or agree on a plan you could consider using a mediation service.
Family mediation helps parents make arrangements for their children to see the parent they don’t live with. The child’s needs are put first. Trained mediators work with parents to consider the options that will help them work through their differences. Mediators do not take sides, make judgements or give guidance. To begin with, each parent is offered an individual, confidential meeting. If after those initial meetings it is agreed that mediation is appropriate, a joint meeting is arranged with the mediator. Meetings last up to one and a half hours for three to five meetings.
Any agreement made is not legally binding so can be adapted if circumstances change. There is a charge for this service, but it is usually based on your income and circumstances.
Some family mediation centres offer other support services such as Parenting Apart groups, counselling for children and young people and mediation to help sort out problems within the family.
Using a legal service
If you are unable talk to your child’s other parent or use mediation to sort out when your child sees their other parent, you may have to get advice from a solicitor and go to court. The legal process can be very long, expensive and difficult for all so should probably be a last resort. At the end of the process the court will decide on what is best for the children using the information you and the children’s other parent have given to your solicitors. The court may ask for a Child Welfare Report if more information is needed to decide what is best for your child.
How the court uses a Child Welfare Report
The court may need to ask for more information before it can decide on the contact your child should have with their other parent. The court may employ a Child Welfare Reporter to do this. Most reporters are solicitors, and all are checked to ensure there is no reason they cannot work with children. The reporter will be told about things that may be important such as abuse, addiction and mental health issues. They will also be told who they should talk to. As well as both parents, or those responsible for the child, the reporter may talk to teachers, doctors and the children involved. The reporter is only interested in information needed to decide on contact but may need to give your consent for interviews to go ahead.
A copy of what the reporter was asked to do and the information they gathered is sent to your solicitor who should give it to you to read before you go back to court for the decision. If you disagree with anything in the report your solicitor can tell the court. You can also complain if you are not happy with how the report was conducted.
Finding and paying for a solicitor
Choosing the right solicitor is important. If possible, get personal recommendations from family or friends who have used a family law solicitor. It is important to try to get this right from the start as changing solicitors ‘mid-stream’ can be difficult.
Choose a solicitor who specialises in family law if possible.
You can check for solicitors who practice family law in your area at the Family Law Association website.