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Making child arrangements

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

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 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.

You can contact the Domestic and Sexual Abuse helpline 24 hours a day on 0808 802 1414 for advice, practical and emotional support and information about where else to get help.

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. 

You can make your own, fill in a template plan online or print one and fill it in.
Make sure both you and your ex-partner have a copy. You can change your plan together at any time.

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 - find out more about going to mediation.

You can also contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help.

Relate has advice on parenting apart and dealing with your children's feelings when you separate.

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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