Neither parental responsibility nor the payment of child maintenance has any bearing on access to children. With parents separating, the priority must surely be the residence (formerly called custody) of children. Usually, with one parent having residence, the other will require contact (previously known as access). The most important factor in any form of contact is whether it is beneficial to the child/children concerned. Enshrined within The Children’s Act 1989 is the principle that ‘the child’s/children’s welfare is the most paramount consideration.
It is always hoped that separating parents can come to a satisfactory settlement however should the courts be involved in the decision, the wishes of children aged 14 years and older are considered and are used to decide where the child will end up staying. Some courts may also consider the wishes of children aged between 8 and 13 years. It is important to note that the child does not choose where they want to live, the court considers their wishes and preferences about the parents.
Separating parents should put to one side the issues they have which each other in order to come to an agreement that acknowledges that the child/children’s well-being is the most important issue that need a satisfactory resolution.
Warring parents SHOULD NOT use their child/children and the terms of residence or contact as an opportunity to score points over the other party.
I can’t comment on how the family courts operate as I’ve had no personal experience of these. However, I do know of many fathers who feel that the decisions of such court have victimized them and been more favourable to the mothers.
Tragically, official figures show one child in five whose parents have separated will lose touch with their absent parent within three years and in some cases they will never see them again. Many more lose contact with a parent most often with fathers when the parents have not been able to agree on where the child should live and how the child should be raised.
Parents should try and ensure that their contact time with their children should be a positive experience. The children are often the innocent victims of the relationship breakdown. They are caught in the middle. They don’t want to side with one parent against the other. They often have to find their own way of dealing with their emotions and feelings about the separation of their parents.
What follows is my list of DO and DON’TS to make that contact as helpful an experience as it could be for both parent and children:
- Do keep all contact appointments.
- Do let your children know how special they are to you
- Do keep your word/promises to your children
- Do show interest in your children and all they are involved with
- Do assure your children that both parents love them and always will
- Do ensure that your time together is quality time
- If a venue for contact is an issue, do agree on a neutral venue
- If planning to take the children away on holiday, do consult the other parent first letting them know of your intention. If you do take the children away, always inform the other parent of your location.
- Do try and keep calm when collecting the children. Being drawn into any form of argument will create a bad atmosphere for the rest of the contact.
- Do assure your children that you will always have room for them
- Do male allowances for your children’s behaviour and feelings. They will be hurting as well as you and this will manifest itself in different ways.
- Do take your children back to the other parent at the agreed time. If there should be an unavoidable delay, let the other parent know asap of the problem and keep them updated about progress.
- Don’t ever cancel your contact time – your children are your top priority come before any other engagement
- Don’t question your children about the activities of your ex-partner
- If in a new relationship, don’t initially include your new partner in your contact. Your children need time with you alone. Eventually, the time will come when your children will feel comfortable about your new partner’s involvement
- If in a new relationship, don’t talk about your new partner’s children/family in front of your children until you have strengthen your relationship with your children and they are ready to be involved in your new family. It must be on your children’s terms, not yours.
- Don’t’ leave your children with others during your contact time. It is YOUR time not anybody else. Your children deserve (and need) your undivided attention
- Don’t criticize the other parent in front of your children.
- Don’t ignore your children or leave them to their own devices during your contact time
- If the venue of the contact is the ‘’old’ family home, don’t change the children's rooms or immediately re-allocate them (eg. to the children of your new partner). Your children don’t want to feel that you have replaced them with your ‘new’ family.