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Two parents, two homes

After a separation, most children want reassurance that, although life is changing, they will still have access to both of their parents. It can also be important to keep in touch with other family members who may also be a source of support and can help a child adjust to new family arrangements.

The quality of parenting during contact matters more than the amount of contact. Effective parenting – showing an interest, offering encouragement, giving love and warmth – is what counts.

There are situations, however, where contact may be damaging, such as where there is no previous relationship; or where there are known risks of abuse or neglect, domestic violence, or extreme conflict between the parents.

What children think about contact

Both parents need to agree contact arrangements, taking account of changing circumstances as children grow older. Younger children benefit from frequent and regular contact, but older children prefer parents to be flexible, as they have their own social activities and friends to make time for.

Research into how children feel about contact shows that:

  • Most children want contact.
  • Most children still value the parent who has left home, seeing them as an important part of their family.
  • Losing touch is painful and, even where there is contact, some children want more.
  • Children in the same family sometimes feel differently about the same arrangements.
  • Children tend to be happier when they are involved in decisions and can talk to a parent about problems.
  • Children need to feel that their views about contact are considered.
  • Children usually enjoy contact, but can find it distressing if parents don't turn up as arranged.

Other problems for children include:

  • Feeling torn between parents.
  • Seeing parents argue.
  • Harassment or abuse.
  • Being used as a go-between.
  • Relationships with a parent's new partner.
  • Missing the resident parent.
  • Having to move between two homes.

Some children will fight against contact. They may feel too upset, angry and confused for a while – this is likely to be temporary.

What contact arrangements should be made?

There's no single way of arranging contact to suit all children and parents.

Some parents share care, where a child spends a percentage of their time with one parent and the rest with the other. Sometimes, contact is every other weekend, holidays only, or day visits.

Arrangements will depend on the children’s personal circumstances; the distance between their homes; suitable accommodation; any financial constraints; and the parents’ working patterns. What the children want, and their age and maturity, will also be considered.

Adults’ and children’s needs change as circumstances change. You may have to review contact arrangements to fit in with events like moving house, changing schools, a new job, new partners, and new babies.

If you need help arranging contact

If you find you need help deciding on child contact issues and other aspects of your separation, family mediation could help you to exchange information, ideas and feelings constructively. You would remain responsible for all decisions.

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