When contact arrangements aren’t working
Last updated: 03/04/2020
There could be various reasons why child contact arrangements are not working. It can depend on the child’s age or even the other parent arrangements.
Your child(ren) don’t want to visit you
There could be various reasons for this. It’s good to ask your children why the arrangements aren’t working, and to listen to what they tell you, so you can work out a solution together.
- as your children get older, they may want to spend more time with friends, go to activities or study for exams.
- they might not want to spend as much time with either parent, which can upset contact arrangements.
Ask your child for suggestions about how contact might work better.
For example, if they usually spend the evening with you but they want to go to a regular activity like an exercise class, could you collect them afterwards, and then eat together?
Some children get upset if there are changes to their routines, for example if they have to go somewhere new or strange. Reassure them that it’s OK to say how they feel, and what they want, and that you won’t be annoyed with them. They are more likely to tell you why they don’t want to visit you.
It could be something that seems insignificant to you, but which is very important to them.
- they miss their favourite toy
- they are worried about forgetting a book for school when their contact days change
- they are worried that their other parent will be lonely or that their pet won’t be fed
- they don’t like a picture or a blanket in their room at your house
- they are worried about wetting the bed; they don’t like, or are confused about, your new partner.
Once you know their reasons, you can work out a plan together.
My child’s other parent doesn’t keep contact arrangements
If your ex-partner has a habit of not turning up to see the children when planned, this can be disappointing and upsetting for you and your children. Your ex-partner’s behaviour may be intentional, for example to control or punish you and the children, or thoughtless, or be based on shame or feeling that they are not a good enough parent.
How you react, and what you do to resolve the situation, will depend on this.
Here are some tips:
- Try to agree contact times and places that suit everyone to help everyone stick to what’s agreed.
- If your ex-partner is routinely not turning up, let them know, in a calm way, how much the children are looking forward to seeing them.
- If your ex-partner knows in advance that they won’t make it, ask them to cancel as early as they can, rather than simply not turn up.
- If there are difficulties because of travel, work patterns and so on, can a phone call or Skype/Facetime be arranged instead?
- You don’t have to make up excuses to cover up why the other parent hasn’t turned up. If you do this, or even lie to the children, the children might blame you or feel that they can’t trust you.
- It’s best if you can stay neutral and avoid criticising their other parent. Try to show that you understand how they feel. For example, you could say something like, “I can see that you’re really upset. I don’t know why daddy/mummy hasn’t come today. I feel disappointed too.” Reassure them that you love them. Allow them to be upset or angry or both. Then create a distraction rather than let it ruin their day and yours. You could ask something like, “What could we do together today?”
- This is very likely annoying and upsetting for you too (although on the plus side you get to see more of your children). It can help to vent your feelings to a friend or family member, when the children aren’t around, and you can’t be overheard.
- If contact arrangements are broken constantly, and this is problematic for the children (and for you, for example because you need childcare at this time), you could think about contacting a family mediation service or a family lawyer to discuss how to resolve this with outside help.
Relationships Scotland offers a mediation service to help parents agree the time they each spend with their children, and the arrangements. There is a charge for this service, but it is much cheaper than going to court, and less intimidating.
Relationships Scotland also runs Parenting Apart information sessions to help families who are separating and there are useful tips for children, young people and parents on its website.
Call Parentline Scotland on
08000 28 22 33
Your own and your child’s safety during contact
Your and your child’s safety and wellbeing are vital. If your ex-partner has committed any form of abuse against you and/or the children, they may use contact to control or harm you and/or the children.
It can feel impossible if you are in the position of having to arrange ongoing contact with the other parent despite safety concerns and against your children’s wishes, or risking court sanctions for not complying with contact orders.
If you are concerned for your child’s safety or wellbeing during visits, speak to an adviser to find out about options for you and your children. There are links to Scottish Women’s Aid and its helpline below.
You can also call Parentline Scotland on 08000 28 22 33 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for advice and support.
If the arrangement is for face-to-face unsupervised contact and this is not safe, you could look into supervised contact or seek legal advice about changing the contact arrangement. The Scottish Child Law Centre is a useful source: 0131 667 6333.
If you are concerned that you or your children are at any risk of threat or abuse, phone the police on 101 for advice.
If you think that your child may not be returned to you after contact, call the police on 101. If you’re concerned about your child not returning from another country, contact Reunite International for advice on what to do.
If you have a lawyer, you could speak to them about what is happening. If you don’t have a lawyer, then it’s best to find one who is experienced in family law and who knows about child contact. Depending on your income, you may get legal aid to help with this.
Your children have rights under the law, and as they get older, they have more of a say about contact. Their rights depend on their age. But, whatever their age, they should never be in a situation in which they are at risk of harm.
Speaking to your children about safety and contact
Stress to your children that they do not ever need to protect you or the other parent, and that they can tell you if they are upset, worried or frightened. Depending on their age, you could agree how they can get in touch with you or someone they trust if they don’t feel safe during contact:
- Agree a code word for using in conversation, text, email
- Make sure your children know when and how they will be coming home
- Let them know they can call Childline for free on 0800 1111 if they feel unsafe or want to talk to someone in confidence
Take a look at our useful contact page