Your child arrangements aren't working

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

You should try and speak to your ex-partner if the child arrangements you’ve agreed aren’t working - for example, if you’re not seeing your children as much as you want.

You might be able to make changes, using mediation if you need to, and avoid spending money on going to court. Court can be stressful for everyone, especially children.

If your children are over 16, you should try and work out arrangements yourselves. A court won’t usually make decisions about a child who's 16 or older.

If you still can’t agree and your children are under 16, you can go to court to sort out arrangements that you’ll both have to stick to.


If you need to speak with someone about your partner being aggressive

If your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened, you should get help.

If you’re a woman affected by domestic abuse, you can call Refuge or Women's Aid on 0808 2000 247 at any time. 

If you're a man affected by domestic abuse you can call Men's Advice Line on 0808 801 0327 between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

If you’re unsure about what to do next, talk to an adviser.

Change your original agreement

Before you get anyone else involved, it’s worth talking about what’s not working.

Look back at what you originally agreed. Try to make some changes to the things that aren't working.

For example, you could:

  • change when and where you see your children

  • get someone you trust involved, such as a grandparent or a friend you both know, to help arrange when and where you see your children

The Ministry of Justice has a guide to sorting out child arrangements that might help if you and your ex-partner are struggling to make your agreement work. If you’re having trouble making the contact arrangements, using a child contact centre might help.

Using a child contact centre

A child contact centre is a safe place where your child and your ex-partner can meet or have ‘contact’. This might help if you’re struggling to communicate with your ex-partner or you don’t want to see them. 

Staff at a child contact centre can:

  • help with handover arrangements so you don’t need to see your ex-partner

  • see and hear your child during the contact session to make sure they’re safe - this is called ‘supervised contact’

  • give you a safe space for your child and ex-partner to meet - this is called ‘supported contact’

You can find out more about contact centres on the National Association of Contact Centres (NACC) website.

If you can’t speak to your ex-partner

If you’re really struggling to speak to your ex-partner and resolve what’s not working, it’s a good idea to start keeping a diary.

Write down any time your ex-partner hasn’t stuck to the agreements - for example, if they keep bringing your children home later than promised without a good reason.

This will be useful if you do need to go to court, because it will show why the arrangement hasn't worked.

Relate has advice on negotiating with your ex-partner if they won't let you see the children.

Go to mediation

You should try mediation before going to court - it can be cheaper and usually quicker. You can check if you’re eligible for legal aid on GOV.UK.

You’ll speak to a ‘mediator’, who will try and help you agree on how to work out your arrangements between yourselves.

You don’t have to go to mediation, but you should at least start it if you think you might go to court later. If you go to court you’ll need to prove you went to an introductory meeting called a ‘mediation information and assessment meeting’ (MIAM). At the introductory meeting you’ll find out what mediation is and how it can help you.

There are exceptions when you don’t have to go to a MIAM first - for example, if you’ve suffered domestic abuse.

Find out more about going to mediation.

If you decide to go to court

You’ll usually need to have done everything you can to make your arrangements work.

You’ll have to tell the court what your original agreements were and why they didn’t work. You’ll also need to tell them what new arrangements you think will work.

If you've experienced domestic abuse, you can apply to the court straight away. You can usually get help to pay for a solicitor - check on GOV.UK.

Court hearings by phone or video call

The court will tell you what kind of hearing you’ll have. Check how to prepare for a hearing by phone or video call.

You can ask the court for a ‘child arrangements order’, which can say:

  • who your children live with and where

  • when and how your children will see both parents

  • who else your children will see, for example family friends and relatives

The court's decision will be based on what they think is best for the child. This is different for every family but the court will usually try to make sure that children see both parents - unless there's a risk of violence or abuse.

You have to pay a £255 court fee to get a child arrangements order. If you're on a low income, you could get help to pay the fee.

You can apply to the court for the arrangements order and find out more about the fee on GOV.UK.

It’s best to get legal help if you go to court. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help finding a solicitor.

If your case is urgent

After you’ve applied online, you should call the court to explain why your case is urgent. The court will decide if you need an urgent hearing.

Your case would be urgent if, for example:

  • your child is in danger

  • your ex-partner hasn’t returned your child when they should have

You can find the court’s contact details on GOV.UK.

You might have to appear in court. You can ask to appear in a different room in court from your ex-partner if you’ve experienced domestic abuse or have another reason to be apart.

Before the hearing, someone will contact you and your ex-partner from an organisation called the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass). Cafcass work with families and the court to help decide what should happen in cases that involve children. The person from Cafcass will also speak to your children before the hearing. You can find out more about what Cafcass do on their website.

The court might ask you and your ex-partner to take an online parenting course called ‘Planning Together for Children’. You and your ex-partner will take the course separately. You can find out about the Planning Together for Children course on the Cafcass website.

The court will decide your new arrangements - you’ll have to stick to them, even if you don’t agree with them.

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Page last reviewed on 30 September 2019