It is widely acknowledged that children benefit from contact with both parents in the event of family breakdown. So, what happens when a resident parent (with whom the children live) is keen for a non-resident parent to commit to seeing their children more regularly than they do?
This can be a difficult issue to resolve and sometimes arises when a non-resident parent does intend to maintain a relationship with their children, but wishes it to be on their own terms, seeking contact as and when it suits them. This can lead to contact being irregular and inconsistent. With no certainty as to when contact will take place, not only does it make it impossible for the resident parent to make alternative plans, but they also have to witness the disappointment and insecurity that children can feel from not knowing when they will next see their other parent.
If the non-resident parent does wish to maintain a relationship with their children, then it may be possible to try to address matters by either speaking to them directly or via a mutual friend or family member. Explaining the difficulties that irregular/inconsistent contact can cause for the children, as well as the resident parent, may help to bring about a change in behaviour.
If such communication is difficult or does not have the desired effect, then consideration should be given to mediation, involving an independent mediator speaking with both parties regarding what they are seeking and trying to help them reach a compromise. If appropriate, mediation can involve the mediator speaking with the children to hear their own views on contact. If they communicate that they would like more regular contact with the non-resident parent, then hearing this via the mediator may assist in persuading the non-resident parent to agree a more frequent schedule for contact.
Child Arrangements Order
If no agreement can be reached via mediation, then it is open to either party to apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order. The court’s view is that save for exceptional circumstances, it is in every child’s best interests to maintain a relationship with both parents. The courts are conscious however of the importance of contact being regular and for the non-resident parent to commit to contact arrangements in the interests of both the children and the resident parent.
If this route is taken, the non-resident parent is likely to face a situation where they have to either commit to a schedule of contact moving forward, or face having their contact reduced to a level that they can commit to. This is usually sufficient for the non-resident parent to appreciate the importance of keeping to the terms of any child arrangements order and ensuring that they commit to the schedule and timings for contact.
While the court will seek to promote the non-resident parent’s role in their children’s life, the reality is that if a non-resident parent is adamant that they do not wish to have contact with their children and is clear that they have no real interest in maintaining a relationship with them, then ultimately the court will not make an Order forcing them to have contact. The reasoning for this is that the court’s paramount consideration is the children’s welfare, and it is highly unlikely to be considered in a child’s best interests to order contact to take place in circumstances where the non-resident parent does not want such contact.
It is difficult to persuade a non-resident parent of the important role they play in their children’s lives when they have little or no interest in maintaining a relationship with the children. Yet it is still worth trying to discuss with them the detrimental impact that having no relationship with one of their parents is likely to have. As before, this can be done by seeking to discuss matters with the ex-partner directly, via a mutual friend or possibly their family members. Alternatively, mediation or some form of counselling can be considered if the non-resident parent would agree. It may be that having an independent person emphasising the importance of maintaining a relationship with the children by way of regular contact would have a positive effect.
Given that the circumstances of every case are different, if there are concerns regarding the level of contact that a non-resident parent is having, we would always recommend seeking legal advice at an early stage so the various options can be discussed in terms of the best way forward. If you would like to discuss any of these issues in more detail with one of our solicitors, we can arrange an initial one-hour consultation for a fixed fee of £50 (Incl. VAT). Please contact us either on 01444 472700 or using the form below.
We know how difficult divorce and separation can be, so we offer an initial one hour fixed fee consultation with a fully qualified lawyer, to help you make an informed decision about how to proceed.
To book, please call 01444 472700 or complete the quick contact form.