Making child arrangements

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

If your relationship ends and you have children, you’ll need to agree where your children live. You’ll also need to decide how much time they spend with each of you. This is called making 'child arrangements'.

Child arrangements are usually an informal agreement - but it can help to write them down.

You’ll only need to go to court if there’s been violence or abuse in your relationship, or you really can’t agree.

Sorting out how to pay for your children is another part of making child arrangements - find out more about working out child maintenance.


You can get advice and support if your partner is being aggressive

You should always get help making child arrangements if your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened.

If you’re unsure about what to do next, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

Refuge and Women's Aid can give you advice, emotional and practical support and information about where else to get help. They run a 24-hour helpline: 0808 2000 247

If you're a man affected by domestic abuse you can call Men's Advice Line on 0808 801 0327 between 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Agreeing where your children live

You’ll need to decide where your children stay. For example, they might live with one parent most of the time - but visit the other one at the weekends. 

When you’re deciding, you should try and think about:

  • who has the most time to care for the children, and on which days - so you can make sure the children spend quality time with each of you

  • the things your children do - for example it might not be best for them to stay somewhere a long way from their schools on a school night

  • things that could happen in the future - for example if they might change schools, make sure they can get to their new one easily on a school night

If they don't live with you, the amount of time your children stay with you might affect how much maintenance you have to pay.

For example, you can pay less maintenance if they spend 1 night a week at your house. This is to make up for the money you’ll spend looking after them. You can find out more about how much you must pay towards looking after your children on GOV.UK.

Keeping in touch with your children 

When you’re agreeing where your children will stay, you should also work out how you’ll keep in touch with them when they’re staying with your ex-partner.

If you’ve moved house and it’s difficult for your children to visit your new home, you could agree to meet them at a relative or family friend’s house.

If you move away from your children, agree how you’ll keep up contact. You could ask your ex-partner to split travel costs or meet you somewhere with the children.

Agree how to keep in touch with your ex partner

If you can, agree a way that you’ll get in touch with each other in case of emergencies.

If you don’t want to talk to each other you could agree to email, text or choose a friend that you can speak to each other through.

Write down your agreement

You should write down what you’ve agreed - this is called making a parenting plan. It will be useful to refer back to this in the future, if you can’t remember what you agreed or something isn’t working. Make sure both you and your ex-partner have a copy - you can change it together at any time.

You can also create an online parenting plan on the Cafcass website. You’ll need to register for a free account. You can share the online plan with your ex-partner so you can make changes on it together.

Getting help with child arrangements

If you need more help agreeing child arrangements, you can go to mediation. It’s much easier and cheaper than going to court for help. A mediator is someone who will try to help you reach an agreement together.

You’ll normally need to show that you’ve tried mediation before you apply to court. There are exceptions that mean you don’t have to try mediation first - for example, if you’ve experienced domestic abuse. Check how mediation works.

If you’re finding it difficult to make the arrangements, using a child contact centre might help. This is a safe place where your child and your ex-partner can meet or have ‘contact’. This might help if you don’t want to see your ex-partner or would like someone else to be there when the contact happens - find out more about using a child contact centre.

You can also contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help.

The Ministry of Justice has a guide to help you and your ex-partner make the right decisions for your children and agree child arrangements.

You can also find resources to help you make arrangements for your children on the CAFCASS website. CAFCASS is a government body that protects the interests of children in family courts.

If your arrangements aren’t working

You can try to sort out something different by yourselves, or go back to mediation at any time to try to sort out disagreements. Even if you keep going back to mediation, it'll probably still be cheaper than going to court. 

If you and your ex-partner have tried and failed lots of times to agree, you’ll need to go to court for a decision that you’ll both have to stick to.

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Page last reviewed on 20 February 2020