Contact arrangements: when can children start to influence the process?

When it comes to making contact arrangements between parents and children, how the children will be impacted and what their needs are will be the primary considerations.

What the children want will of course be relevant, but at what point can children begin to influence the process? When do they begin to understand what's best for them and express their opinions about it? When can children have a real say in the contact arrangements that directly affect them?

The law

There is no defined legal age that dictates when a child can express their views and preferences on how they want contact to happen. What the law does determine, however, is the minimum age a child can choose which parent they want to live with. A child can’t legally choose their primary carer until they’re at least 16 years old.

However, if the court has ordered they should live with one parent until an older age (for example 18 years old), they won’t be able to change this decision until they reach the age stated on the court order, unless a further agreement is reached.

What if the parents don’t agree?

All too often, family solicitors have to manage and support clients who can’t agree on contact arrangements following a separation. Mediation is an option open to families in this instance, to help them try and resolve their differences.

Sometimes, however, mediation services aren’t appropriate, and the intervention of a court will be necessary. For example, where there are safeguarding concerns and considerations.

When this happens, the wishes and feelings of the children will be taken into account if it’s generally agreed that they have a basic understanding of the situation. Usually, this is around the age of 12 or 13 years old, but each child and every case is different, and it’s always advisable to seek independent legal advice if you find yourself in this situation.

What other things will the Court consider?

In cases where children have expressed their wishes and feelings, the Court will look at a number of things before deciding how influential this should be on the overall outcome. For example:

  • Their emotional and mental maturity

  • Parental or third party influences

  • How far the child understands the consequences of their views

  • If the child can explain why they feel the way they do

  • Whether the child’s views and decisions have been carefully thought about, or if they’ve made a snap in-the-moment judgement

How important each of these things will be, depends on the issues involved. Once the court has considered everything that they need to, they’ll then make a decision about what the best outcome for the children will be.

Children first

Sometimes, the contact arrangements put in place won’t be what the children involved want. That’s why it’s all the more important that contact centres are there to do everything they can to make the entire process as successful as possible, for everyone involved.

At Starting Point, we do just that. Get in touch with us today to find out more about how we can help.