Guide to the variation of child contact arrangements
Almost without exception separated parents need to adapt the care arrangements for their children as their children’s needs change over time. It is common for the care arrangements for babies and toddlers to be reviewed regularly as their needs change relatively frequently over the first few years of their lives. Arrangements often need to be reviewed when young children start school and as they get older when they begin to become more independent. No arrangement, from an informal verbal agreement to an arrangement set out in a court order, is set in stone. If you believe that the existing care arrangements are no longer suitable for your children the first thing you should do is raise this with your former partner. It may be that they agree that the current arrangement is not working and you are able to agree a new arrangement between yourselves. One parent should not change the arrangements without the other parent’s agreement or a court order. If they are not prepared to discuss matters, or you are unable to come to an agreement, we suggest you seek legal advice.
Your solicitor will discuss the various options available to you. Often you will be advised to consider attending mediation, which involves an independent third party attempting to facilitate an agreement. Where cases are unsuitable for mediation, or parents are unable to come to an agreement at mediation, it may be necessary to issue a court application.
Upon issuing such an application the court will be asked to decide what is in the best interests of the child. In doing so CAFCASS, an independent governmental body, will carry out checks on the parties and may be asked to conduct further reports in which they make recommendations. The older the child or children in question the more weight will be attributed to their wishes and feelings.
The court has a wide range of powers in regulating how parents care for their children. The orders that the court commonly make are contact orders, residence orders, shared residence orders, specific issue orders and prohibited steps orders. As the name suggests a prohibited steps order prevents a parent doing a specific action in relation to the child, such as taking them out of the country. A specific issue order can be made in relation to a range on issues, for example which school the children attend.
If you are interested in discussing the variation of contact arrangements please see How Vardags can help with the variation of contact arrangements.