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Your child arrangements aren't working

This advice applies to England

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

You can call Refuge or Women's Aid on 0808 2000 247 at any time. 

Men's Advice Line is a charity that helps men suffering domestic abuse. You can call their helpline on 0808 801 0327 between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

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

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 you or your partner can’t keep to.

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 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 you haven’t been able to stick to the agreement you made between yourselves.

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’s much cheaper and usually quicker.

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

Even if your ex-partner refuses to go to mediation, you’ll usually have to go to a first meeting - called a mediation information and assessment meeting or 'MIAM’ - before you can go to court .

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.

The court will want to see evidence of this. You’ll have to tell them what your original arrangements were - for example, by showing them a copy of your parenting plan. You’ll also have to show them the MIAM form you’ll get after your first mediation meeting.

You can go straight to court if you've experienced domestic violence. You can usually get help to pay for a solicitor - check on GOV.UK.

If you're on a low income, you might get help with court fees.

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.

It’s best to get legal help if you go to court. Your nearest Citizens Advice can tell you about getting help with legal fees.

You can represent yourself instead of using a solicitor if you can’t afford the fees - Advice Now's guide to representing yourself in court can help.

You can apply to the court for the arrangements order by following the steps on GOV.UK.

You’ll have to stick to whatever the court decides - even if you don’t agree with it - unless you and your ex-partner both agree to changes.

You’ll have to appear in court. You can ask to appear in a different room in court from your ex-partner.

Your children might be asked to come to court too - each court has a different process. Either way, someone from an organisation called CAFCASS will speak to your children beforehand. They’ll tell you and your children what will happen next.

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