How do I manage Access?

I’m confused with all the terms, what is custody? Access? Guardianship?

Custody is having responsibility for the day to day care of the child, the child lives with the person who has custody. If the parents are not married the mother automatically has sole custody, if you are married you both automatically have joint custody. Custody arrangements can be decided in court or informally through mediation.

Access is when the parent who doesn’t live with the child spends time with their child.

Guardianship is a collection of rights and duties. There is a duty to maintain and properly care for the child and rights to be involved in making decisions in major areas of the child’s life such as choosing religion or schools, consenting to medical treatment, getting a passport and decisions about leaving the country. If the parents are not married the mother automatically has guardianship and the father can apply through the courts to be made a guardian, if you are married you both automatically have guardianship rights.

Will my ex- partner have access with our children?

Your ex-partner may request access with their children, if you feel access is not in your child’s best interests then it will be up to your ex-partner to apply through the courts for an access order. You can have legal representation at this and you can request your child’s views be taken into consideration. A Guardian Ad Litem is a person who will meet your child and put the child’s opinion across to the judge.  A judge may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem or you can ask your solicitor to request one be appointed.

The Judge will decide on the time of access, how much access there will be and also where it should happen. You will get to express any concerns you have at the access hearing. If you have concerns about contact with your ex-partner during access, you can ask for access or handover to happen at Time4Us , ,or another public place.

If you are happy to come to an agreement with your ex-partner about access yourself then access can be arranged informally, you can also come to an agreement and then have it made a rule of court. What that means is a judge looks over what you have decided and if it is deemed to be fair and you are both happy it is given the power of a court order.  You can use mediation also as a way of coming to an agreement. It is important that you don’t agree to something you are not happy with, take your time in mediation, and don’t feel you must agree to please someone. Remember whatever you agree will be in place for a long time; you need to be happy with it.

What if my child doesn’t want to go to access?

Children can have mixed feelings about attending access. There can initially be confusion as to when access will happen or how much access there will be. It is important to keep communication with your child open. Tell them that right now they might not be able to see daddy for a little while but that they will be spending time with him.

Some children may not want to see their dad and may have bad memories of living with him. It is important they feel heard and that their view is taken into consideration. If you have a Social Worker or a Family Support Worker you could ask them to work with your child around this.

Using a supportive environment such as Time4Us with the presence of staff, may help to reassure your child about the visit. Alternatively arrange access to happen in a public place where there are other people around.  

Write down any concerns that come up during access or that your children say to you after access, keep a record of these for court.

How will I manage contact with my ex-partner?

Managing contact with your ex-partner is very important for your emotional well-being. Try to keep it formal with your ex-partner. The only reason you need to communicate is because of the children. If your ex-partner tries to discuss anything else with you it is best to tell him that you are not prepared to have the discussion and that you will hang up if he doesn’t stop.

Here are some ideas for managing contact with your ex-partner:

  • Switch off your phone to avoid having to be threatened, harassed or disturbed by his calls and texts.
  • Tell him that he can speak to the children at specific times for example every day at 6pm, twice a week at 8pm etc. Try to stick to this arrangement. This way you will be prepared for his phone calls. It is when we are unprepared that we are more likely to get drawn in emotionally.
  • Try to avoid talking to him and hand the phone directly to your children.
  • Consider getting a new phone number. Sometimes women have two mobile phones. One for contact with their ex-partner which they only switch on at certain times, and one for their own use. This can be a very effective way of managing contact.

Is he is using the Children to control me?

Another way your ex-partner may try to exert control over you is by manipulating your schedule through the children. He may “play games” about when, where, and how he is going to see them. He could inconvenience you as much as possible to accommodate his access privileges. He may also use the children as a weapon, threatening to refuse to see them if you don’t do what he wants.

Recognise this attempt to control you again. Do not let him use the children as another weapon against you. If he uses the children in this way you have to ask yourself whether he should be with them at all. If he threatens that he will not see them unless you submit to his manipulations, losing touch with his children will be his decision, not yours.

This is where either having a court order or rule of court will help you to resist his attempts to manipulate you, you can just stick to the agreed schedule.

I think he is using the children to send messages to me?

Even if you do not have direct contact with your ex-partner, you still may hear about him. When your children see him, they’re going to tell you about their visits. While that may be hard for you, asking them not to talk about him may just put them in the middle, which may be exactly what your ex-partner wants.

Your ex-partner may attempt to influence and control you in many ways even after separation. One route is through your children. He may tell them things stories he knows they will tell you. It’s important for you to anticipate this. The more prepared you are for his indirect tactics, the easier it will be for you to deal with them when they occur.

Why does he say untrue things to the children?

Your ex-partner might try to control you through the children. He may work to convince them that you are the reason the family is not together or that you were cruel to him.  He may try to turn the children against you. Hearing your children repeat these things can be hard on you. Your children may frame these things as questions to you, or they may say them as a statement of fact. If they are questions try to respond without anger and resist your urge to silence the children. If you are not able to respond calmly, just tell them you are glad they asked you and you will talk to them about it later. Be sure to keep that promise. The table below is designed to help you to try think of possible answers so you might feel a little prepared if they do ask you anything.

Even though it is difficult when you talk to your children, remember that they are being used and placed in the middle by your ex-partner. Acknowledge how unsettling it must be for them to hear these things from him. You also need to tell them that you have no choice. You cannot live with him anymore, and even though they may not understand it right now, you cannot do anything to make their father feel better.

Encourage them to come to you whenever they are confused or want to ask questions. Let them know that you will always love them no matter what they say or ask. Make sure they know that they are not to blame for what happened between you and their father.

Think about all the scenarios that could apply to you and write down some ideas for what you might say to your children if these issues arise.

Issue with Child Your Possible Responses

Your ex-partner tells the children the abuse was all your fault

Your ex-partner tells the children that you are preventing them from being a happy family again

Your abuser agrees to see the children at specific times and then fails to show up

Your ex-partner tells the children you are preventing them from having more time together

Other possible issues involving the children (list)

Download our booklet on Managing Access





Remember, when an abuser is still in your life, you cannot predict what might happen. Thinking about potentially difficult situations and planning ahead as best as you can is one of your best defences against unexpected and potentially dangerous contact. See our Safety Plan for more information.

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