If you are a parent who does not live full-time with your children, then you are likely to be familiar with the tightrope you have to walk to agree arrangements with your ex-spouse or partner for spending time with your children. Many people are able to successfully resolve agreeing contact arrangements, and reviewing and altering them when necessary, directly by discussion and co-operation. Some co-parents continue to communicate well, some use Apps such Our Family Wizard to assist, but others find communication more difficult and may have strained and limited exchanges via email or text messaging.

As family lawyers, we tend to become involved when parents are unable to agree contact arrangements between them – either as a result of a relationship history that makes such direct communication unwise or impossible, a breakdown in communication leading to an impasse or a disagreement about arrangements that it is just impossible to resolve without third party involvement.

The most important thing to remember when trying to improve your child contact arrangements is to ask yourself, improve the arrangements for whom? At the heart of any dispute about contact is the child. Their welfare is paramount. Their best interests are the key and override whatever either parent might want or prefer to happen for their own personal reasons. The child's views should be taken into consideration, with appropriate weight given depending on their age and maturity.

When lawyers do become involved, what tools do we have at our disposal to help you resolve issues with your contact arrangements?


Family lawyers are always keen, where possible, to try and help clients resolve disputes at an early stage without more formal, time-consuming and costly steps being taken. The first step to resolving a contact dispute is likely to involve lawyers writing to the other parent, or their lawyer, or picking up the phone to the other lawyer to see if there is scope to try and reach agreement. Sometimes this can be by the exchange of correspondence, sometimes by discussion between lawyers, sometimes by arranging a joint meeting between lawyers and parents to try and work out the best contact arrangements going forward.

If negotiation is impossible, impracticable or unsuccessful, then the next step to trying to resolve your child contact dispute is likely to involve one of a variety of dispute resolution approaches.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

The term 'Alternative Dispute Resolution' (ADR) describes a variety of methods of resolving disputes without raising formal court proceedings, ranging from mediation, collaboration and arbitration.

Mediation involves parents negotiating directly with the assistance of a neutral, third party mediator facilitating communication.

Collaborative law involves parents each appointing a collaboratively trained lawyer, and a series of joint meetings being held between clients and lawyers, adopting the principles set out in a participation agreement, and with a view to reaching a mutually agreeable solution.

Arbitration is when parties in effect appoint a private judge, legally qualified and highly experienced in family law, to make a legally binding, confidential decision about their dispute.

As family lawyers we can advise on a case-by-case basis what approach may best assist you in resolving your child contact difficulties.


Unfortunately, there are some child contact disputes which just can't be resolved through more collaborative routes, and, as a result, it is necessary in those cases to ask a Sheriff or Court of Session judge to make the decision. In recent years steps have been taken to make the Family courts more user-friendly, to have greater case management to ensure cases progress efficiently and cost-effectively and to allow children greater opportunity to express their views on the decisions being taken about their future. Often the court will appoint a child welfare reporter, either just to take the views of the children who are the subject of the action, or to investigate more fully the facts and circumstances of the case.

Every family is different and every set of contact arrangements is different. If you need advice or assistance in trying to improve your arrangements for contact with your child or children, we are happy to help you further.


Victoria Varty

Senior Associate