Contact (sometimes called “access”) is the legal term used to refer to a person having contact with a child who does not live with them (temporarily or permanently). More formally, it describes the way in which a person maintains personal relations and direct contact with a child under 16 years old.
Contact is often colloquially used to refer to physically seeing the child but it also includes indirect contact by means such as telephone, letter, email and increasingly “Skype” or similar technology.
A person with full parental responsibilities and rights (PRRs) in relation to a child has
- the responsibility, if the child is not living with them, to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the child on a regular basis
- the right, if the child is not living with them, to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the child on a regular basis.
Arranging contact with a child
Even if you have PRRs you may wish to (or need to) make arrangements for contact with a child. The most common reason for doing this is if you have separated from the child’s other parent and cannot agree arrangements for contact.
You may be able to make arrangements without going to court, either by negotiating or through attending mediation or by using a collaborative approach. Sometimes, however, it will be necessary to apply to the court for a “contact order” which will set out the arrangements for your contact with the child. As mentioned above, this can include arrangements for physically seeing the child (which can range from a couple of hours on a set day to taking the child on a holiday abroad), but can also include telephone or “Skype” contact.
A person without PRRs may also wish to apply to the court for a contact order. This often follows family breakdown and could, for example, be a grandparent seeking contact with their grandchild, a sibling seeking contact with their sibling or even a step-parent seeking contact with a step-child.
Who can apply to court for a contact order?
The general rule is that anyone who can “claim an interest” can apply for a contact order in relation to a child. This is commonly accepted to mean anyone with an interest in the welfare of the child. Often applicants are parents, grandparents, siblings or other family members but contact orders are not limited to these. You do not need to be biologically related to the child to apply for a contact order.
The welfare of the child is always the court’s paramount consideration when granting a contact order. The child’s views are also taken into account, where appropriate. Depending on the age of the child, his or her views may be a key factor for the court. Children of 12 years or older are presumed to be old enough to express a view and the court is likely to place strong weight on this. The court will also consider the views of children under 12 years of age, if they wish to express them, and these views could also be a decisive factor depending on the circumstances and the child’s age and maturity.
If you are thinking of applying for a contact order in relation to a child or just want some more information about contact then contact us.
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