In the continuation of our Private Family Law series, this article looks at the question, is there a set level of contact with children on divorce?
The short answer to this question is no. As will be addressed in later articles, there is currently a guide to provide for significant levels of contact between both parents and there is a commonly held view that contact with both parents is in the child’s best interests.
However, the level or quantum of contact is often a question of fact which is determined by what is in the best interests of the individual children.
What factors determine a parent’s level of contact?
Several factors can come to play in this regard inclusive of for example availability of suitable accommodation for contact, the age of the child, any special needs or disabilities that the child may have, the views of the children subject to their age (see later article), the availability of the parent to have contact (due to work etc) and indeed the capability of the parents to provide appropriate care to the children.
General level of contact for parents
Having identified the above however in general terms, all things being equal, you would generally expect a level of contact to be in existence along the lines of the following:
During term time every other weekend (which could either be from Friday after school until return to school on Monday or, subject to availability, collection from one parent on Friday evening and return on Sunday evening to be prepared for school the next day).
In addition, there would usually be at least one evening per week available for the absent parent to take the children for tea if not incorporating an overnight stay also.
School holidays would then generally be shared on an equal basis provided there are facilities for each parent to be able to take sufficient time to provide care for the children during their school holidays.
However, as stated, each case is determinable by its facts and the individual circumstances of the children concerned.
What about contact arrangements on special days / events?
Contact arrangements and/ parenting plans will often also consider special days with appropriate arrangements or agreements put into place to manage these. Obvious examples are the children’s birthdays, the parents birthdays, Mother’s and Fathers Days, Christmas, Easter (if Christian, albeit Easter weekend can be a relevant issue due to availability of bank holidays either side of the Saturday and Sunday) or other significant religious festivals for other religions.
Level of contact over holiday periods
Whilst I will look at ways in which holidays can be divided in a later article, subject to the children’s age, the primary summer holiday will often be divided either on a week on week off basis or will provide for the opportunity of one week with each parent and a fortnight period to enable the ability to go away on holiday (again see subsequent Article about issues about going away on holiday).
Arrangements, as identified above, would often be as described as a live with one parent and contact with the other but as the potential time particularly during the term is extended so that greater time is spent with each parent you begin to move into a shared care arrangement which might be reflected in a Court Order as live with each parent and time with the children spent with each parent to be defined as being living with them.
Does one parent have a greater level of parental responsibility or permission than the other?
As I will touch upon in Lived With Orders in a later article, if a child primarily lives with one parent and the other is provided with contact, this does not legally provide the parent with the greater amount of time with any greater level of parental responsibility or permission to make decisions on behalf of the child (also see Parental Responsibility article later).
Can arrangements for levels of contact change?
Even if made within the terms of a Court Order, arrangements for children are living breathing arrangements and are not necessarily cast in stone. The amount of time spent with each parent should be consistently and regularly reviewed to consider the changing circumstances not least of which of the children’s age.
It is perhaps self-evident to suggest that even if an order were made for contact to a child who is three, by the time they reach ten, a very different set of arrangements probably can and should be in place.
This article is part of a series on Private Family Law and Children Law proceedings. If you would like to learn more about the rules around parental responsibility, contact, holidays and arrangements for separated parents, please click here for the full series.
The next article in the series will address the question, “do I have to provide contact?”
If you would like to discuss the different types of legal proceedings relating to children, please get in touch and we’d be happy to assist you.