General Principles

  • What is a Contact Order?
  • We still remain married and therefore as the father, I have a right to contact. This is correct isn't it?
  • Our son gets upset at the contact. I have done my best to encourage him to see his father but it is not really working. What can I do?
  • If she keeps stopping contact and I have an order in place what sanctions can the court impose?
  • Is there a standard arrangement for contact?
  • What are the types of contact?
  • We were never married. Do I have a right to contact?

Most arrangements about when children will see their non-resident parent are made informally and are matters which are agreed between the parents. This is by far the best way for children and for each parent's ongoing relationship with them. There does not need to be a court order unless there is an issue about contact on which the parents cannot agree.

If the child is to live mainly with one parent, there must be arrangements for time to be spent with the other parent. Children have a right to regular personal contact with both parents unless there is a very good reason for them not to. This is not something that is the choice of the parent with whom the child primarily lives, it is the law. Contact is not a matter of reward or punishment for one or other parent.

It is important at the time of separation to get contact arrangements right in the first place. Do not delay; try to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Do not use contact as a means of 'getting back' at your former partner. Be realistic about the arrangements. Contact is about spending 'quality time' together. Be flexible and remember the contact is about what is in the children's best interests. Try to establish a regular routine that suits all concerned and principally, the children.

Research suggests that agreements negotiated between parents are more likely to be adhered to in the future than court imposed programmes of contact. If you cannot agree or find it difficult to talk to each other, it may be that the professional support of an experienced mediator in conjunction with your solicitor will assist you in reaching an agreement. You should always consider using a mediator to try and reach an agreement over important issues and full details of their services are provided on this website. If you still cannot agree, or such alternative methods of dispute resolution are not appropriate in your situation, then you may have to make an application to court.

An Application to Court for a Contact Order

The Children Act 1989 is the main piece of legislation dealing with family disputes about children. A Contact Order (being defined by the Act) is an order requiring the person with whom the child lives to allow the child to visit or stay with the person named in the order, or for that person and the child otherwise to have contact with each other. A Contact Order may also say that no contact is to take place. Usually the level and extent of contact is defined by the order.

The child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration when looking at questions of contact. The court has a duty to consider certain welfare issues in accordance with the criteria established by the Children Act 1989. These criteria (known as the Welfare Checklist) are:-

  • The wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his/her age and understanding).
  • His/her physical, emotional and educational needs.
  • The likely effect on him/her of any change in his/her circumstances.
  • His/her age, sex, background and any characteristics which the court consider relevant.
  • Any harm he/she has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
  • How capable each of the parents is of meeting his/her needs.
  • The range of powers available to the court under the Children Act.
In the absence of agreement between the parents the court will ensure that the children either have proper contact with the absent parent or in certain circumstances, the Judge may deny contact if he/she is satisfied that the children’s safety is at risk.

Contact Options

Some contact arrangements will be particularly flexible and generous this is ideal where parents can agree ongoing contact by direct discussions between themselves.

Other Contact Orders will need to be specific in terms of time and date in order to establish a routine and this is particularly important where the parents are not able to communicate so effectively with each other.

Contact can either be direct, for example by means of visits, overnight stays and face to face meetings. Alternatively it can be indirect, for example by letter, telephone or email.

Breach of an Order

A Contact Order is, by definition, an order of the court and failure to comply with it may be viewed as a contempt of court which can have serious consequences. If there are problems on the part of either party in contact proceedings then it is important that the matter is restored to the court at the earliest opportunity if the parents can no longer agree. The parent who has care of the child should always apply to vary a contact order if circumstances change or they are not working out in the children's best interests.

In circumstances where there is an order in place and the other parent refuses to adhere to it, steps can be taken to enforce it. If the court attaches a Penal Notice to the order and it is breached, the parent who has not complied with it could be in contempt of court for which the punishment can be severe. Any decision by a judge will be based upon what is in the best interests of the children and not viewed simply as a means of punishment to a parent. As of December 2008, other methods of enforcing contact orders have been introduced but it is nevertheless accepted that it is in the child's best interest to have a relationship with both of his/her parents.


Over the last 16 years John Turner, the Principal of Blackdown Family Law Solicitors has dealt with all aspects of child contact matters and applications to court on a regular basis. He will advise you on the most effective and efficient way of proceeding, whilst taking into account all of the circumstances of your case and what is in the best interests of the children. Through extensive and successful experience he will work with you in order to achieve best outcome to resolve any conflict.

Areas of Family Law Work
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