Advice for separated parents

Advice on how to support your child through divorce and separation.

As separated parents, you are responsible for managing the care and contact arrangements for your child. It is acknowledged this can be a highly emotive time for parents and children and it is important you try not to allow your emotions to impact on making safe and fair arrangements for your child. You must put them first.

Where to start

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) website contains ideas and ways in which you can help yourself and your child, including:

  • an online Parenting Plan that you can work on in conjunction with your co-parent, which consists of a written agreement that covers the practical issues of shared parenting to support reaching a mutual agreement
  • information about mediation and child contact centres
  • access to a free online course 'Getting it Right for Children' which can help with communication with your co-parent
  • links to helpful resources.

It is usually in a child’s best interest to maintain contact with both parents. Reassure your child, who is likely to be feeling upset and anxious. Take some time to really listen to your child about what they need. Find further information on parenting together.

It is important that you do not seek to punish your ex-partner by denying them contact with their child.

Court order

If a child arrangement order, contact order or residence order is in place, and you have safety concerns for your child while they are in the care of their other parent, you should seek legal advice.

It is likely that you will share parental responsibility with your ex-partner for your child. A child’s birth mother always has parental responsibility (unless there is a court order in place which stipulates otherwise). A child’s other parent also has parental responsibility if they are named on the birth certificate, or they were married to the birth mother at the time of the child’s birth.

If you share parental responsibility, your ex-partner is entitled to information about your child’s education and health. There is also the presumption that they should continue to be involved in their life and spend time with them.

Unless the reason was for your child’s welfare, reducing or stopping time with the other parent after you separate can affect your child’s emotional wellbeing.

In most cases parents don’t need a court order about child arrangements (where a child lives and spends time).

Where there are disputes about arrangements for your child, neither of you have more rights than the other to make decisions. However, if you are your child’s main carer and no court order is in place, you are responsible for keeping your child safe. This may mean you form a view about how the child arrangements are made.

Where safe, it is usually best for parents to agree arrangements for their children outside the family courts. Evidence suggests these arrangements are more successful than those reached during court proceedings.

Help with the way forward

If you do not agree on the way forward, you can find useful information below:

  • Self Help - Whatever route you chose to take there may be things that you can do to help. See Parenting Plan (Cafcass) with regards to sorting out arrangements for your child.
  • Cafcass provides a range of resources for families.
  • Family mediation - An independent, professionally trained mediator helps you and your ex-partner to work out an agreement about issues such as:

Legal advice and other forms of dispute resolution

There are specialist family lawyers who can help with all aspects of finding a way forward. Agreement is usually a better, more satisfactory way forward. You can learn more about this from the Resolution website.

There is no legal aid for solicitor advice in family law. You can get free legal advice from Coram Children's Legal Centre.

In most cases an application to court will be a last resort. The court expects you to explore all other reasonable and safe options first, including both parties seeing a family mediator. A court order does not necessarily sort out the underlying issues.

Either parent can make the application. However, you cannot issue an application to enforce a parent’s involvement in their child’s life if they do not want this.

In cases where there is an immediate threat to a child’s or adult’s safety you may need to get a court order urgently.

Find further information about the family courts, or find your family court using the Court Finder (GOV.UK).

Concerned that your child is not safe with your ex-partner

Safety concerns

Parents are responsible for keeping their children safe.

If you are concerned that your child is not safe with your ex-partner or other family member, it is your responsibility to take protective action. This may include:

  • stopping your child from seeing your ex-partner or other family members where your child’s safety would be compromised
  • asking for a third party to assist with handovers
  • asking for handovers to take place away from the home address
  • asking for communication to be restricted to arrangements for your child limiting communicating to text messages
  • using a child contact centre, which provide supervised and supported contact (there are often costs involved).

Child contact centres may be appropriate for your child to spend time with your ex-partner for a short period of time, but they are not intended for long-term use. The National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) has information and advice, as well as supported and supervised contact information.

When to contact Children's Services

Contact the Integrated Front Door if:

  • we are already providing you with Early Help or social care support
  • you are concerned that your child’s safety is at risk, and you are unable to protect
  • you need support or advice.
Last updated:
24 October 2023
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