Child Contact: What to Expect

Father Figure answers your questions on the thorny issue of contact arrangements. What is reasonable and what is realistic to expect when you separate?

Q: Will contact benefit my child?

A: Research shows that those children who adjust best to life after family separation are those that have the ongoing input of both parents. Children value contact with both parents even where that is small or imperfect.  

Q: Is agreeing contact straightforward?

A: Many parents find themselves in quite serious conflict over the amount of time that their children will spend with each of them. Sometimes it’s because one parent feels that they aren’t getting enough time with their child. Other times it’s because one parent feels that the other is not doing enough of the day-to-day caring. 

Reaching agreement  

Q: Where do I start?

A: What is important when you come to agree patterns of care and contact is that you put the needs of your child above your own. The division of parenting time must also never become a weapon with which to wield power over the other parent.

Q: What is a reasonable amount of contact time?

A: Each case is different. There is no one type of contact that is better than another for all situations. You need to think about how much hands-on care you can realistically provide, how much you have provided in the past and wider issues such as work commitments, getting your child to school etc. 

Child contact types

Q: What happens if we can’t agree?

A: If you find yourself getting into conflict around agreeing contact, you may need to get outside help. Trained mediators may be able to offer a way forward. If things reach a point where no progress can be made, you may need to turn to the family courts for help.

Mediators: agreeing without the courts

Q: Is the law biased in favour of mothers?

A: The law itself favours neither mothers nor fathers. When the courts come to decide any matter concerning a child’s upbringing, its paramount consideration is the welfare of the child.

Increasingly, it is recognised that fathers have a significant role to play in their children’s lives after separation, but remember that judges may have similar prejudices and attitudes towards mothers and fathers' caring abilities to those of the general population. 

The family court: residence and contact orders  

Q: What should I do if my child’s mum is concerned about my caring abilities?

A: Mums can become anxious about a father's ability to provide day-to-day care, especially if they have not looked after the children for extended periods of time on their own. Very often, mothers and fathers prioritise different aspects of caring.

It can be a sensible idea to try and agree a few basic ground rules. This might include bed times, types of food to be eaten, how often clothes may be worn before they are to be washed etc. 

I've not been very involved up to now...  

Q: Once contact is agreed, is it set in stone?

A: The very best contact arrangements are those that are regular, consistent but flexible. They also need to be age appropriate. A child who is five may like to stay with you every Saturday night. 

By the time that child is 12, they may need the flexibility to be able to go to sleep-overs. Being able to talk to your child’s mum on an ongoing basis not only helps children but models co-operative behaviour.

Q: What happens if I can’t cope?

A: If you begin to struggle, don’t panic. Talk to other fathers, look at  other articles on Dad.info, get a book out of the library, look to your family for some emergency support.

If you really find that you can’t cope, don’t be afraid to admit it. Be up front and find a new contact pattern that will work. Always remember that it is quality that counts not quantity.

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