The family courts: residence and contact orders

In an ideal world, we would all love to resolve issues around children after separation through discussion and agreement. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible and disputes end up with lawyers and judges in the family court. Dad Info takes a look at the role played by family courts.


When should I consider using the courts?

The decision to go to court to resolve differences with your ex partner should not be taken without serious consideration. Many parents report negative experiences of the court processes. Many feel that they are adversarial. This can make co-operation with your ex partner harder in the long term.

Around 85 per cent of parents manage to resolve contact arrangements independently, with 5 per cent using mediation services. Only 10 per cent turn to the courts to help resolve separation issues. If you can reach agreement outside the courts, you and your children are more likely to be happy with the outcome. In 2014 the law was changed and MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting)  is now compulsory for divorcing couples. Family mediation is a vital step to try and resolve any conflict but sometimes it doesnt work. Please read 

Mediation: agreeing without the courts

Mediation - how it works

Mediation - why use it?

Mediation - when it isn't working

But you may need to consider using the courts if you and your ex partner are unable to reach agreement over important issues such as parental responsibility, contact and residence.

What issues can the family courts decide?

When parents are separating, divorcing or applying for civil partnership dissolution and can't agree on arrangements for their children, they can turn to the courts for help - in England and Wales there are specialist family courts. In Scotland, the civil courts handle family matters. The family courts can issue a contact or residence order that will determine visiting rights and where the child will live.

The child's welfare is the court's paramount consideration when looking at questions of contact and residence. The court has a duty to consider certain welfare issues such as:

  • the wishes and feelings of the child concerned
  • their physical, emotional and educational needs
  • the likely effect of any change in the child’s circumstances
  • the child’s age, sex, background and characteristics
  • any harm or risk of harm
  • the capability of both parents to meet the child’s needs

What is a residence order?

A residence order is a court ruling on where a child will live. An order can be granted to more than one person and can be made jointly to an unmarried couple. It lasts until the child is 16 unless the circumstances of the case are exceptional and the court has ordered that it should continue for longer.

A residence order also prevents anyone changing a child’s surname without the agreement of everyone with parental responsibility or an order of the court except in Scotland, where a residence order does not prevent a change in surname. It also places certain restrictions on taking children out of the UK. 

What is a contact order?

A contact order requires the person with whom a child lives to allow that child to have contact with a person named in the order. Types of contact vary depending on circumstances. Again, orders generally continue until the child is 16 years old.

Residence and contact orders are orders of the court and failure to comply with them can be a contempt of court. This can lead to serious consequences.

The family courts continued...

Mediation: agreeing without the courts

What kind of contact can I expect?

Types of contact

Reaching Agreement




Updated: September 2017

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Hide comments (30)


  • Tom
    Tom Tuesday, 29 March 2016

    Breach of order

    I have an order in place. I see my daughter every Tuesday for 2 hours after school and every second weekend over night. The order States a mutual pick up/drop off point. The order has been in place for a year, in that time I have not missed a day, however my ex has decided the pick up/drop off point is not convenient and alters this between her house and her parents house, I have been compliant. My ex has now decided to go against the order completely and is refusing contact. She has provided no explaination. What can be done about this?

  • Team 1 Team 1 Monday, 06 June 2016

    Hi Tom

    How are things going with your situation? I hope you have been able to resolve the issue with your ex. If not perhaps you could go back to the court who issued the order or perhaps try Citizens Advice via the following link:

    Alternatively, we have a forum with an existing community of Dads and expert moderators - if you post an update on the forum and request for help/advice, they may be able to help you.

    If you require any further help please let us know.

    Many thanks

    DAD.Info Team

  • Guest
    anthony Saturday, 07 May 2016


    I need help I have a contact order but I need help I need to change something in my order as while it is in there my contact is being cut and my ex Is NT willing to agree anything and going against the order please could some one tell me how to change my order or the right path to take thank u

  • Guest
    Ako Tuesday, 21 June 2016


    I have never met my 3 year old daughter? he mother does not allow me to see her. She does not send me even her picture. I pay £345 per month of child support. What should I do?

  • Team 1 Team 1 Wednesday, 22 June 2016

    Hi Ako

    Please see my comment below to Anthony and William

    I think the Children's Legal Centre and our Forum page would be really helpful to you.

    If there is anything else we can do to help, please let us know.

    Good luck - kindest regards

    DAD.Info Team

  • Guest
    william Tuesday, 21 June 2016

    william parkin

    I currently have a contact order to see my son every Sunday but over the past couple of weeks I have had him over night which is brill however my ex is nw not letting me have him over night what order to I have to get to be able to have my son overnight

  • Team 1 Team 1 Wednesday, 22 June 2016

    Dear Anthony and William

    Thank you for your comments above - in both cases the Children's Legal Centre should be able to help you - a link to their website is below:

    It would be really helpful if you posted your question on our forum page where our community of Dads may be able to offer advice based upon their own experiences. We also have a team of experienced moderators who may also be able to offer you some additional advice - you can either click on the FORUM tab above or click the following link:

    All the best

    DAD.Info Team

  • Guest
    Andy Saturday, 25 June 2016

    Hi I wonder if you can help please.

    My wife and I split 3 and a half years ago, we have been to court twice because we could not agree the child living arrangements. Each time my ex wanted the lions share of the time and each time the court agreed with me that it should be allocated in a more ballance way. The Sheiriffs notably did not order residence. Although he did order allocation of time to each of us.

    In the absence of a residence order she acts as if she has special rights and this makes matters very difficult

    We have been trying to conclude the divorce and she still wants to make changes. I am thinking of complying on the agreement that this settles the matter, in an attempt to reduce the conflict. I understand that legally we both have the same parents rights. However I m wondering if I could ask the court to order a joint residence order to emphasis that we have joint positions as parents to send a message of equality

    What do you think?

  • Team 2 Team 2 Monday, 27 June 2016

    Dear Andy

    Thank you for getting in touch.

    The Children's Legal Centre should be able to help you - a link to their website is below:

    Also, have you looked at our Forum? It would be really helpful if you posted your question on our forum page where our community of Dads may be able to offer advice based upon their own experiences. You can either click on the FORUM tab above or click the following link:

    All the best

    DAD.Info Team

  • Guest
    darren Thursday, 07 July 2016

    hi i have a final hearing on 30th August for residency of my daughter that i have a court order against her mother. she as agreed that she is better off living with me but i just cant face her in court.i have been in a bad way with depression and anxiety over last few months after traumatic split and have recently been feeling a lot better and stopped my medication i feel seeing my wife again after 2 months will start it all backup again is there anyway i can request a room with a screen up between us and seprate entrance and waiting room many thanks.

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Guest Monday, 23 October 2017