Access arrangements for children – indirect contact

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A practical guide to the different types available

Along with the welfare issues to be considered when thinking how to meet your child’s needs, parents who are separating will need to decide on practical issues around contact arrangements.

There are a number of different types of contact arrangements, which vary in terms of the quality of contact which occurs. In this article we will focus on the different types of indirect contact and how they work and we will take a look at direct contact in a future article.

Indirect contact means any contact a parent has with a child that is not face to face. In an increasingly digital age this can now take many formats.

Why have indirect contact?

Before we consider the different types of indirect contact arrangements, you may be wondering why indirect contact is being discussed. There are a number of different reasons, for example:

  • It is the safest option and it may be felt that due to some safeguarding issues this is the most appropriate way for contact to occur. For example, this could be if one parent has an alcohol addiction and may not be able to look after the child safely. Or the child may have been exposed to domestic violence at home and there remains a risk to them from having direct contact.
  • It provides a way to reintroduce an absent parent to a child’s life. For example, if one parent has not seen their child in a year or more then indirect contact can be used to break the ice and to test the commitment of the absent parent.
  • It can reflect the child’s wishes and feelings, for example if an older child has decided that they do not wish to see one parent. Indirect contact can be a way of allowing the child to know that they are still loved and should they change their mind the door is open. This can sometimes occur in bitter separations if a child has been exposed to negative information from the parent they live with.
  • To bridge gaps in direct contact. This can occur if one parent works abroad and direct contact is infrequent, or it can also occur just to complement direct contact that does occur regularly. For example, a parent may have overnight contact every other weekend and indirect contact by way of text messages during the week.

Indirect contact is often used as a starting point with the intention that it can build over time to direct contact.

Types of indirect contact

Indirect contact can be one way, or mutual.

If it is one way, this typically involves the parent sending letters, presents, emails, photographs, or cards to the child. The child is not under any obligation to respond. Sometimes no response is expected due to the age of a child, or in order to respect a child’s wishes not to have to communicate with one parent.

With the advances in technology, indirect contact could now include sending voice notes. This may be useful for a child to be able to hear from a parent without feeling under any pressure to converse, it would also allow the parent to express themselves.

If mutual indirect contact is agreed, then there is an expectation that the child will engage. This could be an older child responding to a letter or card, or a younger child sending a drawing. A child may also wish to send or exchange gifts with their parent at certain times of the year, such as Christmas and birthdays.

Mutual indirect contact could also involve communication via social media and text message.

If there are safeguarding concerns, then the indirect contact may need to be monitored to ensure the child is not being exposed to anything harmful. This may involve an appropriate adult checking letters or emails before they are shown to the child.

Video access and phone calls

There is no statutory definition of indirect contact, but if it is to be on a mutual basis then it may include phone calls or video calls, for example via Facetime, Zoom, Skype, telephone calls or video messages. For example, it could also include communicating over online gaming which can be an especially useful tool in building rapport with older children.

Contact of this nature can be an intermediate step between no direct contact and face-to-face contact. Video calls can be especially useful when there has been a large gap in direct contact occurring, as it allows a child to become visually familiar with their parent again, while in the familiar surroundings of their own home. Contact of this nature takes a degree of trust that the availing parent will not say anything inappropriate.

It may be that this continues to be monitored for a period of time by an appropriate adult.

What next

It is usually best to try to agree with your former partner directly the detail of how indirect contact will occur. If this is to be mutual contact, it is important that the contact is sent and responded to in a timely manner. If this is to be via phone call or other means, then prior agreement needs to be reached on what number to phone or what account to contact. It is also important that phones or other devices are well charged with good service, prior to the contact occurring.

How we can help

If you cannot come to an agreement with your former partner, we can advise you on your options.

If you need advice on contact arrangements for your children, please contact Hannah Byatt in the family law team on 01480 702207 or email [email protected].

Hannah Byatt BA, Partner

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