Problems with access arrangements

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Q. I have an informal arrangement with my ex-partner regarding contact with my son, this is no longer working, how can I change it?

You should try and speak to your ex-partner if the child arrangements you’ve agreed aren’t working - for example, if you’re not seeing your children as much as you want.

You might be able to make changes, using mediation if you need to, and avoid spending money on going to court. Court can be stressful for everyone, especially children.

If your children are over 16, you should try and work out arrangements yourselves. A court won’t usually make decisions about a child who’s 16 or older.

If you still can’t agree and your children are under 16, you can go to court to sort out arrangements that you’ll both have to stick to.

If your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened, you should get help.

Change your original agreement

Before you get anyone else involved, it’s worth talking about what’s not working.

Look back at what you originally agreed. Try to make some changes to the things you or your partner can’t keep to.

For example, you could: change when and where you see your children

get someone you trust involved, such as a grandparent or a friend you both know, to help arrange when and where you see your children

If you can’t speak to your ex-partner

If you’re really struggling to speak to your ex-partner and resolve what’s not working, it’s a good idea to start keeping a diary.

Write down any time your ex-partner hasn’t stuck to the agreements - for example, if they keep bringing your children home later than promised without a good reason.

This will be useful if you do need to go to court, because it will show why you haven’t been able to stick to the agreement you made between yourselves.

Go to mediation

You should try mediation before going to court - it’s much cheaper and usually quicker.

You’ll speak to a ‘mediator’, who will try and help you agree on how to work out your arrangements between yourselves.

If you decide to go to court

You’ll need to have done everything you can to make your arrangements work before going to court.

You can ask the court to say:

who your children live with and where - this is called a ‘residence order’

when and how your children will see both parents and other relatives - this is called a ‘contact order’

If you’re on a low income or at risk of domestic abuse, you might get help to pay for a solicitor

If you’re on a low income, you might get help with court fees.

The court’s decision will be based on what they think is best for the child.

This is different for every family but the court will usually try to make sure that children see both parents - unless there’s a risk of violence or abuse.

It’s best to get legal help if you go to court

You can represent yourself instead of using a solicitor if you can’t afford the fees. The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service has more information.

You’ll have to stick to whatever the court decides - even if you don’t agree with it - unless you and your ex-partner both agree to changes.

You’ll have to appear in court. You can ask to appear in a different room in court from your ex-partner.

Your children won’t usually have to attend court. A court children’s officer will usually talk to you and your children if they’re old enough to understand.

The court children’s officer be able to explain your children’s views to the court.

Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice at or for further information go to