How do I make child arrangements when I split from my partner?  

When you split up, you and your former partner will need to agree on anything that involves your children. This includes deciding on where they’ll live and go to school, and how you’ll divide costs.  

Sometimes this process can feel hard, but it’s a good idea to agree on how you’ll manage childcare between you as soon as you can. You only need to get a court involved if you can’t reach an agreement or you have concerns.  

Talk it through with your ex

Prepare a list in advance of all the things you need to discuss. Think about which issues youre willing to compromise on. This can help you agree on things more quickly.  

Try to speak in a neutral place away from the children. Agree to put their needs first in any agreements you make.  

It can help to create a set of ground rules for the conversation:  

  • Start with the issues you both already agree on and go through them one at a time.  
  • Be open and honest. Explain your reasons for the arrangements youre trying to make.  
  • Try to see things from the other parent’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with them. Acknowledging their feelings will also help them feel heard.  
  • Take a break if emotions run high. Or arrange to come back to the discussion another time. 
  • A written plan may help you feel organised or more supported. You can download a free parenting plan from the Cafcass website. 

    Agree on who has contact, when

    You may be able to agree on how each of you contact or spend time with your child without outside help. This can be a verbal agreement, but it can help to write it down. If you include contact arrangements in your parenting plan, you will have a written reference of what you’ve agreed.  

    If you want to make the agreement legally binding, you can ask a solicitor to draft a ‘consent order’.  

    • Remember that if a parent is named on the birth certificate, they have a legal right to contact with their child.  
    • You can include contact arrangements as part of your written parenting plan. 
    • If discussions don’t work, mediation may help. A professional advisor can help you create a co-parenting plan, including contact arrangements. You can search for your local family mediation centre online. 
    • If you worry about your child’s wellbeing when they are with their other parent, you can organise visits at a contact centre. The other parent will need to agree to this. Cafcass has a list of registered contact centres. 
    • If you’re worried that handovers may be stressful, you could ask a friend or family member to be there.  

      If you can’t reach an agreement

      Agreeing things directly with your ex has lots of benefits, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Mediation is the next best step. This is when a professional helps you and your partner to talk about the issues in a more neutral way.   

      Mediation may not be the right option if you have experienced domestic abuse. In that case, you should get legal advice or support to stay safe first. Visit Women’s Aid or ManKind for help. 

      If you need legal advice, many solicitors offer 30 minutes for free. You can also find information from the Child Law Advice charity.  

      You should only need to go to court if you can’t agree after mediation, or in some cases of violence or abuse. 

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      This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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