Child Contact (Access)
Contact was previously known as “Access” in Scotland and it is the legal term which refers to the interaction a person has with a child under the age of 16 who does not mainly live with that person.
Contact tends to be used to describe physically seeing and doing things with the child but it also covers indirect modes of communication, such as letter, telephone, email and so on.
For example, following a parental separation, one parent might have a residence order in respect of the child of the relationship – which is the right to provide the child with his or her main home. The other parent might have an order providing for contact with the child at specified dates and times.
A person with full parental rights and responsibilities (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 .
Arranging child contact where you have PRRs
Even if you have PRRs you may wish to (or have to) make arrangements for contact with a child.
Most commonly, this happens where parents have separated and cannot informally agree the arrangements for contact.
It is not always necessary to go to court to get agreement on contact.
It may be possible to resolve matters through negotiation via a solicitor or by attending mediation.
Where matters can be agreed, it can have the benefit of extra flexibility and also in helping to maintain the “working relationship” between parents post-separation which is generally in children’s best interests.
If none of these options work, however, it may be necessary to make an application to court for a “contact order” to set out the arrangements for child contact.
Contact can range in scope from limited, non-face-to-face (e.g. letter only) contact to extensive face-to-face contact each week, perhaps also including generous provision for holiday contact several times a year.
Arranging child contact where you do not have PRRs
A person without PRRs may also wish to apply to court for a contact order.
Typical situations following a relationship breakdown include contact requests by grandparents, siblings and step-parents.
Who can request a contact order?
Generally-speaking, anyone who can “claim an interest” is allowed to apply to court for a contact order in relation to a child.
This has been accepted to mean anyone with an interest in the welfare of the child.
The majority of applicants are parents, grandparents, siblings and other family members but no one is absolutely excluded. For example, a biological relationship to a child is not a necessary ingredient of an application for a contact order.
A court will always regard the welfare of the child as the paramount consideration when deciding whether or not to make a contact order.
The court will also take the views of the child into account, where appropriate, and, depending on the age of the child, his or her views might be given considerable weight by the court.
Under Scots Law, children aged 12 or over are presumed to be mature enough to express a sensible view on this type of issue and their views will form an important factor in any court’s decision on contact.
The court will also consider the views of children under the age of 12, if they wish to express them. The weight the court gives them in reaching its decision will depend on the court’s assessment of the child’s maturity.
Contact us for help
If you have any questions regarding a matter relating to child contact, or any other aspect of our Family Law services, please feel free to contact us on 01343 544077 (Elgin office) or 01309 672126 (Forres office) or send us a Free Online Enquiry.
All initial enquiries are free of charge and without obligation.
You can find information on residence (sometimes referred to as “custody”) by clicking here.