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Family courts: what they expect from parents

Before you apply for a court order it is worth remembering that judges will expect you to have tried to agree. You and your ex have joint responsibility for working out the arrangements for your children. This duty continues when you separate, even if you have never lived together. If you can’t talk to each other, you will be expected to ask for help from a mediator or a solicitor.

The court will expect each parent to put forward their case. It is the court’s duty to put the child’s welfare first. It can be hard for parents to accept that what they ask for may not be what is best for the child.

What courts say is best for a child
  • For parents to encourage the child to have a good relationship with the other parent.
  • For parents to have a ‘good enough’ relationship with each other.
  • For the child to spend time with both parents.

The law sees it as the child’s right to have regular, personal contact unless there is a very good reason not to. In the rare cases where contact is denied, the court will have been satisfied that the child’s safety is at risk. Denial of contact is unusual and in most cases the contact ordered will be frequent and substantial, considering the child’s age and all the circumstances. In some cases, contact will be arranged on an interim basis which will be subject to review until the Court is satisfied that the amount and frequency of contact is right. Non-payment of child support is not a reason the court would consider denying contact.


If you want to change agreed arrangements, the court will expect you to make sure the other parent agrees first or that you have used the help of a mediator or solicitor before going to court. Experience shows that court-imposed orders tend to work less well than agreements made between parents.

Court proceedings are good for restoring contact when it has stopped and increasing it when it is insufficient. However, going to court does not necessarily improve the parenting relationship, which is so important to children’s wellbeing. While family mediation offers parents a chance to improve their relationship and focus on the needs of the child, going to court tends to teach couples how to argue!

Having a court order

If there is a court order in place you must do what it says, even if you don’t agree with it. If you want to do something different, you must apply to the court to have it varied or discharged.

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