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
    GElliot Tuesday, 03 April 2018

    Baby of 7months.....HELP

    My partner (age 26) is currently trying to get an arrangement made with his ex gf over their 7month old baby. We attended mediation but unfortunately the mother of the child didn’t make an appointment so we are now heading to court on the 20th April. After a caffcass telephone interview today we are less confident and are worried things aren’t going to get any better. We only see the child for 3hours on a Friday morning and we need to travel over 40miles there and back. Which means due to the time scale we are unable to bring baby back to our house meaning we need to sit in a cafe for 3hrs with her which makes building any bond very difficult in that noisy environment. We are asking for more time so we can bring her to our house but she is breast fed and mum isn’t willing to express. Has anyone any useful advised as we are being made to feel that we are being unreasonable and to be honest feels like a living hell at present. Hopefully our solicitor has some success in court for us in two weeks but don’t scared to get our hopes up. There is no background of abuse or anything else my partner has his own family ran business just got lured in by the wrong girl! At 23 the mother now has two children under 4 too two different fathers.....my partner pays maintenance for his baby girl

  • Guest
    Stephanie Thursday, 07 June 2018

    Access being denied

    My son was given access to see his son as laid out by the court on the 10th May and I as the grandmother to liase with my daughter-in-law to make arrangements when he can see his son, but I am having great difficulty in getting her to let him see his Dad, Since the court date he has seen his son twice, once for 2 hours where she sent 2 strangers to my house to supervise even though there is nothing to say that the visits have to be supervised and the second time she allowed him to see him was for 3 hours, so in total he has seen him for 5 hours since the court. I have messaged her again today to try arrange for this weekend and also for Fathers Day and his Grandpas birthday but again she has plans for the weekend and will let me know regarding the other dates and with the attitude within the response she will probably say she has got plans for the other dates too.
    She's not just denying my son access but denying the whole family from seeing him, in my personal opinion this cannot be good for my grandson.
    Can you give me any advice

  • Guest
    eliza jane Wednesday, 15 August 2018

    over using time

    hello, we usually have my partners children after school time throughout the week 2 x per week overnight - his ex tell us during the school holidays we need to picked them up at 7.30am and when he is on night shift return them late afternoon. The CO was taken out as she primarily refused access as she left the home due to boredom. where do we stand with this any help, can we refuse and have the children as normal 3pm and return at 9am ?

  • Guest
    Julie Sunday, 25 November 2018

    court looming

    Hi my son is taking his ex partner to court for better access to his 3 yr old son. Since she left the family home she has been dictating when he can see his son. He has always been a huge part of his sons life, bathing him and putting him to bed each night, ex partner enjoying holidays away usually overseas with friends and leaving dad and son alone. They have a strong bond. My son was the one that stayed overnight (mum went home to sleep) when little boy was in hospital a couple of times with chest infections, his ex just wants to move on and is trying to break the bond. We as grandparents have also been 'dismissed'..She is so determined to get her own way her wealthy parents have paid for a barrister to represent her in court. , is this a worry for my son? Now saying ' out of the blue' that she has concerns over my sons mental health, bizarre! Not sure were this has come from! My son has no history of mental illness. What is she trying to do? Cafcass have no concerns.

    Does my son stand a chance in court? We have no experience of these situations and we feel lost and so very upset, our liittle grandson adores his daddy , oh and also his ex has been physically abusive to my son which is now in the hands of the police. Just to add though, our grandson is well cared for and in no danger, so we dont have that worry.

    Why do mums do this, I think his ex has lost sight of what is important here, she just seems to want to hurt my son. Any advice please?

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