Spending time with my child: What to expect

We answer your questions on the thorny issue of contact arrangements. What is reasonable and what is realistic to expect when you separate?

Q: Will contact benefit my child?

A: Research shows that those children who adjust best to life after family separation are those that have the ongoing input of both parents. Children value contact with both parents even where that is small or imperfect.  Research has also show that children who are well-bonded and loved by involved fathers, tend to have less behavioural problems, and are somewhat inoculated against alcohol and drug abuse. Yet when fathers are less engaged, children are more likely to drop out of school earlier, and to exhibit more problems in behaviour and substance abuse

Q: Is agreeing contact straightforward?

A: Many parents find themselves in quite serious conflict over the amount of time that their children will spend with each of them. Sometimes it’s because one parent feels that they aren’t getting enough time with their child. Other times it’s because one parent feels that the other is not doing enough of the day-to-day caring. The important thing is to talk, there are a number of family mediation services which can help you reach agreement. We have put together this article Reaching agreement  

Q: Where do I start?

A: What is important when you come to agree patterns of care and contact is that you put the needs of your child above your own. Start as soon as possible and keep contact consistent, children benefit from a routine and the certainty of knowing when they will see their parents.The division of parenting time must also never become a weapon with which to wield power over the other parent.

Q: What is a reasonable amount of contact time?

A: Each case is different. There is no one type of contact that is better than another for all situations. Primarily it is what is needed by your child, your needs are secondary. You do need to think about how much hands-on care you can realistically provide, how much you have provided in the past and wider issues such as work commitments, getting your child to school etc. 

Child contact types

Q: What happens if we can’t agree?

A: If you find yourself getting into conflict around agreeing contact, you may need to get outside help. Trained mediators may be able to offer a way forward. If things reach a point where no progress can be made, you may need to turn to the family courts for help.

Mediators: agreeing without the courts

Q: Is the law biased in favour of mothers?

A: The law itself favours neither mothers nor fathers. When the courts come to decide any matter concerning a child’s upbringing, its paramount consideration is the welfare of the child.

Increasingly, it is recognised that fathers have a significant role to play in their children’s lives after separation, but remember that judges may have similar prejudices and attitudes towards mothers and fathers' caring abilities to those of the general population. 

The family court: Child Arrangement Orders  

Q: What should I do if my child’s mum is concerned about my caring abilities?

A: Mums can become anxious about a father's ability to provide day-to-day care, especially if they have not looked after the children for extended periods of time on their own. Very often, mothers and fathers prioritise different aspects of caring.

It can be a sensible idea to try and agree a few basic ground rules. This might include bed times, types of food to be eaten, how often clothes may be worn before they are to be washed etc. 

I've not been very involved up to now...  

Q: Once contact is agreed, is it set in stone?

A: The very best child arrangements are those that are regular, consistent but flexible. They also need to be age appropriate. A child who is five may like to stay with you every Saturday night. 

By the time that child is 12, they may need the flexibility to be able to go to sleep-overs. Being able to talk to your child’s mum on an ongoing basis not only helps children but models co-operative behaviour.

Q: What happens if I can’t cope?

A: If you begin to struggle, don’t panic. Talk to other fathers, look at  other articles on Dad.info, get a book out of the library, look to your family for some emergency support.

If you really find that you can’t cope, don’t be afraid to admit it. Be up front and find a new contact pattern that will work. Always remember that it is quality that counts not quantity.

 Separation: troubleshooting


About the author

Clare Kirby qualified as a lawyer in 1983 and worked for several years in industry. She founded Kirby & Co in 1997. As a member of Resolution and an advanced member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel she is experienced and respected in the field of family law. Trained as a collaborative lawyer, Clare offers clients a range of options - traditional, and collaborative law - to best meet the needs of the individual clients.



Updated: September 2017

Hide comments (24)


  • Guest
    jon Friday, 30 September 2016


    hi. i have just recently separated from my civil partner of 8 yrs, we have a 4 year old littl boy who i have lived with as his farther since birth and my name is documented on the birth certificate. my ex partner is very hit and miss regarding my access to my little boy, if she is angry with me she will simply say " wright you are not having him this weekend as planned, and she will tell him that i do not want to see him, which is heart breaking. when i do eventually see him he will say to me , why did you not want to see me daddy ? i feel that i have no power or wrights especially when she blocks me from her phone so i am unable to contact them. howeever if she wants to go out for the night she will suddenly contact me and expect me to be at her beck and call which i all ways am but feel that i am unable to make arrangements for myself re access. in addition, her family have connections in australia, and i am terrified that she will suddenly decide to go , as when she goes on holiday she will just text me a date and say she and my son are not around for those dates . there has never been any violence between us , however when i was liiving with her and i did any thing she did not like she would scream, get out of my house now and i would have to leave as she joint owns the house with her mother. i became so unhappy that i texted a girl asking her to meet me, however i had by this time arranged permanent alternative accomadation for myself she is now playing the victim and not taking any responsibility for the break down of our relationship. i am feeling overwhelmed and crushed by the situation. i have set up maintenance payments already which is paid direct into her account, and when we co-habited, i paid my share of the biills.

  • Guest
    Rowan Stewart Sunday, 30 October 2016

    Access to my daughters

    I have been separated from my ex for over a year, I had access to my daughters going to look after them in their mothers flat, taking them shopping, buying their clothes in fact it was not till I left that I realised I was paying for everything for my girls and their mother had had to do anything not even food shopping until I took early redundancy and my ex demanded more money or she said I could not see my girls, which is what has happened.
    I had always paid full maintenance even when I was living with them and continued to pay until redundancy. My ex is now using our daughters as a tool to inflict pain, arranging for me to see them then taking them home early she has done this several times but the last time she took the phone from my daughter and told me and said she was taking the kids home and I could not see them, my 8 year old went crazy while I was on the phone to her mother and started screaming at her mother saying she hated her, saying you don't even love me you always shout at me and call me a bitch. I don't know what to do now I do not want to hear my kids go through that again. We were not married but my name is on the birth certificates of both girls.

  • Guest
    Sy Saturday, 17 December 2016


    Me am my partner was arrested on a drug conspiracies an both went to jail but she had my son before she was sent down!
    And I have never met my son and she is saying I can't meet him until I have a job an fully get out of prison! I am home now on my home leave from cat d prison so I could meet him now but she won't allow it!
    I haven't contacted her as she told me not to so what do I do? I want to meet my lil boy , he is nearly 3 now and I am home for Xmas this would be the best present ever just to see him!
    But it's not going to happen what can I do as I call solicitors an all they want to do is charge me?
    And I have no money because of my current situation! I have served my time an made my mistakes all I want to do now is be a dad to my lil boy! Can anyone help me please??

  • Guest
    Concerned Mother Monday, 24 April 2017

    Concerned Mother

    My ex walked out on me and my two children (aged 5 and 2) over a year ago and now he has started threatening me completely out of the blue about taking me to court. He's being abusive and threatening at every opportunity even though I have bent over backwards from the very start to make sure he has been able to have regular visits and phone calls with the children. Even now amidst the threats and nastiness I am still doing this. He is on both the childrens birth certificates and has previously threatened to take them without my consent. My children have no wish to be away from me and whatever he has said to my 5 year old daughter has caused her to start having nightmares. What access is he actually allowed? Because I am really beginning to worry over this as it now seems more of a plan than a threat. I have a two week old child as well as the two mentioned and this is causing unnecessary stress and worry for our household. I have tried discussing these matters with my ex but he just makes demands and threatens me when I can't or won't meet them. What can I do?

  • Guest
    adam Monday, 01 May 2017

    accessing my child

    i recently broke up with my ex after being victim of physical and mental abuse, she then moved to a hostel after lying to get in so she could gain more housing point, i know exactly where she is because she knows im not a threat and in her own words a fantastic dad, so she told me where she was.

    i started having her son whos 3 and my daughter whos 8 months old every other weekend, she then changed it to every weekend because she said she couldn't cope, which was fine with me, the more time i see them the better, only problem i had was her son whos nearly 4 has severe learning difficulties and i was struggling to control him and look after my daughter, so i asked if i could just have my daughter for the time being,
    she said no you have both or non, our communication started to break down and now she has cut all contact.
    iv no idea where to go from here, its been 4 weeks now with no contact, im worried that because my daughter is so young the bond iv already built up with her will get lost.
    since splitting up with my ex iv learnt shes been in refuge 3-4 times in the past, she wont let the father of her son access even though hes tried numourous time, she put her son in a dangerous position by getting into an abusive relationship herself where she and her son got assulted, he got 4 years in prison.
    my number one concern is the childrens safety happiness and iv no idea where to turn.

  • Guest
    Jess Saturday, 01 July 2017

    Abusive parent

    Hello, my one year old daughters father is racially abusive to us, and also physicallly abused me and I reported him to the police, now he wants to take me to court for a court order to see her, and have contact. Will he be allowed? I am afraid he will hurt her or call her a racist name again

  • Guest
    Ash Friday, 13 October 2017

    My child lives with me

    Following years of Dv . I ended the relationship with my wife. She left the family home with police assistance. Now she has applied for child arrangement order.. ive been my sons primary carer since birth. Hes 4 now and its been 11 months since she has been gone. Ive promoted contact 3x week 2.5hours after school.
    Final hearing monday plus contested hearing following CAFCASS inaccuracies n one side views. Ie failing to add 7 police logs of Domestic v and other stuff. So my question is.. Will my son remain in my care? Under the roof he grew up in? The CAFCASS officer recommended mum has 4 nights a week.. day on day off,which is really appalling given my son is at school and will be so confusing for him n exhausting being pulled here n there. Any views will be so helpful. The courts dont really favour the men folk.

  • Guest
    Scottf84d4 Sunday, 29 October 2017


    Hi, My son has been divorced for 8 years.Access to his son is very limited i.e 6 hours once every 5 weeks on a saturday if he's lucky.
    This access also depends on any other plans.eg football practice. My grandson has now taken up ice hockey so saturday and sunday are now out of the question.He is not allowed to have him during the week.So now he does not know when he will see him as access is totally at the whim of the mother.My son has done all the right things but she has stated that she will make sure that his son will know what a bad father he is.Totally untrue.Needless to say the 2 parents only comunicate by text messages.My grandson has a very good relationship with my son and the rest of our family when we see him.Iam very concerned about the long term effects of this situation on him.Any advice would be appreciated

  • Guest
    Danny Mason Saturday, 20 January 2018


    I require advice on the subject of the amount of time I get to see my son.

    We have recently split up and talking between us about the usual things maintenance etc but my ex has since said for sleepovers, twice a month. Now I'm not happy with this and has she the right to dictate this? My son is 19/20 months old and I want to be involved as much as possible. Does the age of my son have a part to play in the amount of sleepovers?

    I work shifts so I hope she would want to be flexible but it doesn't seem like she does.


  • Guest
    Scott Saturday, 03 March 2018

    Ex withholding access for unrelated reasons

    My ex is not allowing me to see my 5 year old girl for time to time we have an agreed Friday night saturday night go home Sunday evening but from time to time we have a disagreement over an unrelater matter not concerning my child or any care of her but my child's mother refuses to let me see my child as punishment or out of spite. I don't think she realises the pain it causes but also have no idea where to turn

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