Under normal circumstances the courts will expect separated or divorced parents to make informal arrangements between themselves for child access however in circumstances where the parents cannot agree to reasonable arrangements the court will make a child contact order upon application by a divorce solicitor on behalf of one of the parents. A contact order will usually include conditions indicating where and how often contact should take place and will specify the type of contact. In some circumstances court orders can be made to allow contact between the child and other relatives and friends to encourage continuance of a normal family relationship.
A child contact order through the courts only becomes necessary when the parent who has physical custody refuses or imposes unreasonable contact conditions. The reasons for this are many however the most common include maliciousness, an increase in future bargaining power and a parent who just cannot be bothered.
The normal procedure is for the non custodial parent, or a divorce solicitor on their behalf, to make application for a full child access order and at that time to also make application for an ‘interim order’ which will be dealt with quickly, possibly at the first ‘directions hearing’ at which time the Judge gives instructions as to the future course of the application. Interim contact arrangements are made on a temporary basis until the matter is settled at a full court hearing. The court of appeal have indicated that the only consideration in regards to interim contact orders is whether it is in the child’s interests for there to be an interim order for contact pending a final determination.
At the final hearing which is usually attended by all parties and their advocates together with lay witnesses and expert witnesses if appropriate, there are a number of possible orders a judge can make, that are subject to appeal, which include:-
- Reasonable Contact
In cases where the parents appear to behave reasonably the judge may leave it up to their discretion as to how, when and where access to children should take place. In the event of difficulties in due course either party can refer the issue back to their divorce solicitor for negotiation or legal action.
- Visiting Contact
Child access takes place at the non custodial parent’s residence.
- Staying Contact
Occurs where the children stay overnight at the non custodial parents residence.
- Defined Contact
In difficult cases the court may make a detailed and sometimes complicated child contact order indicating exactly how access should occur.
- Supervised Contact
This takes place in the presence of an independent third party often at premises other than either party’s residence. The court may decide that the independent third party is a relative of one of the protagonists and may grant access at that person’s home.
- Indirect Contact
Occurs where the non custodial party is not allowed to see the children personally but is allowed contact through letters, postcards, gifts, telephone calls etc.
Our nationwide network of specialist lawyers will give initial free advice on all matters relating to matrimonial disputes including dissolution of marriage, separation, injunctions, finance and agreements and court orders relating to custody and access to children without further obligation. If after talking to us you decide not to take matters further you are under no obligation to do so and you will not be charged anything at all.