What do you do when you turn up for contact and your ex refuses to allow you to see the children?

I was asked the above question recently (not for the first time!), and I thought that I would do a post about it. For simplicity, what follows will be written as if the children reside with the mother and the father is seeking contact, although obviously the advice applies equally if the children reside with the father.

Rule#1: Stay calm! Don't allow yourself to be provoked, do not lose your temper, do not try to force your way in and, above all, do not get violent. If you do, then you are just playing into her hands. She will be able to use your violence against you in any future court proceedings, making it far harder for you to obtain a contact order.

OK, so what do you do? First of all, find out why contact is being refused. Here are some typical responses:
  • The children are ill. What is wrong with them? If it is something trivial like a cold, then refusing contact could be unreasonable. If it is something more serious, then you are entitled to know about it. Will she let you see them, even if you can't take them out? If they require medication, then can you take it with you and administer it while you have the children? If contact does not take place, consider ringing in a few days, to see how the children are.
  • The children don't want to see you. Why not? Can you talk to them? Obviously, their age(s) will be a factor here: the older they are, the more weight their wishes will be given. Do you think their mother is turning them against you? If so, you may have to act quickly to get a contact order - see below.
  • I've made other arrangements for the children. If she has made arrangements for the children to do something that they could have done on any other day then this is unreasonable, assuming that the contact visit was pre-arranged.
  • You can't see them until you've paid the maintenance. As I've advised many times before, contact and maintenance are two completely separate issues. You should, obviously, maintain your children, but even if you are not paying a penny you are still entitled to have contact with them, and they with you.
  • You didn't bring them back on time previously. Is this correct? If so, was there a good reason? Obviously, contact arrangements should be kept to, and if you haven't been keeping to them, then you will need to re-establish trust by giving assurances and keeping to arrangements in future.
  • I don't want them coming into contact with your new girlfriend. Obviously, introducing children to a new partner should be handled sensitively, but if the new partner is part of your life, then they will be part of the children's lives too, unless there is a very good reason why not.
  • I don't want them coming into contact with your family. Why not? Your family is the children's family too, and the children are entitled to have a relationship with them too, unless there is a very good reason why it would be against their interests.
  • I'm not satisfied that your home is suitable for them to stay overnight. OK, this could be reasonable, in which case invite her to your home, to assure her that you do have suitable accommodation. If she refuses, then this could be unreasonable.
  • I don't trust you to look after them properly. Why not? Have you given her any reason for this in the past? Is there any reason why you are not fully capable of looking after them? Unlikely. Parents obviously have different views as to what is and is not acceptable, and she cannot force her views upon you, so long as your care for them is equally adequate.
  • I don't trust you to bring them back. Does she have any good reason for such a fear? If not, then this is unreasonable. If so, then you will have to satisfy her that you will bring them back, or make an application to a court.
  • She refuses to give a reason. Almost certainly unreasonable. Consider instructing a solicitor, or issuing a contact application - see below.
If she is not prepared to discuss these issues with you, would she be prepared to discuss them with you and a mediator? For more information about mediation, see here.

If you are not able to discuss matters reasonably with her, or if she still refuses to allow you contact, then walk away. The longer you stay there, the more likely there will be an 'incident', or she will allege that you are harassing her. Obviously, you will have to consider instructing a solicitor, or issuing a contact application.

Keep a contemporaneous diary of your contact with the children and any problems that occur. This could be extremely useful in any future court proceedings. If there have been regular breaches of agreed arrangements, this would give you grounds for an application to the court.

Your court options depend upon whether or not you already have a contact order. If not, then you can apply for one. An application should be made to the divorce court if there are divorce proceedings or if not, to the local family court. An application form can be found here. If you already have an order, then you can apply to enforce it. Your enforcement options include committal to prison (unlikely, unless there have been regular and blatant breaches of the order), a fine, an unpaid work requirement and financial compensation. Most likely, the court will try to make the contact work, for example by redefining it to deal with problems that have arisen (e.g. fixing a neutral venue for collecting and returning the children), before taking enforcement action. For more information about enforcement of contact orders, see this guidance leaflet.

Obviously, this post has only scratched the surface of what is a huge topic, but hopefully it has given some useful pointers. Remember, though, that the advice given here is only general - for advice specific to your matter, consult a solicitor.


  1. I think this is a really helpful article and truly rational but if I may make some observations, the tone seems to assume, albeit in a very small way, that the person denying contact is female always, and that the woman in question is most certainly trying to 'trick' the man into behaving badly.

    As a woman, the above sentiments may make me somewhat of a foregone conclusion :) but noone can ever make another person behave badly. Added to which, as you do point out in your article, there may be valid reasons for the refusal of contact, which are not listed here.

    Despite all of that, I think it's a really informative article and what I love about it is that it puts the children first.

  2. Yes, I did it that way as that is the most common situation, but I do make clear in the first paragraph that it applies equally if it is the mother that is seeking contact.

  3. Well, having had all this thrown at me for the last few years it seems pretty tame to me.

    You miss one point. The police force usually (varies by district) have a policy of 'Positive Intervention'. This means that they will steam in and look for an arrest and prosecution. This means I keep getting the Police knocking on my door and have had to make 4 complaints against them this year alone.

    Last time I got a harrassment warning for telling her to F off while she was assaulting me.

    They could prosecute the girls, but as a rule they only prosecute men for common assault. Courts up and down the country are full of frustrated fathers being denied contact and charged with assault for the honour.

    If you do a search on injunction and cafcass you get loads of women asking if they can justify to cafcass denying contact on the basis that they have a dodgy injunction for their ex partners to keep away from them (courts usually grant these with no evidence).

    I think the answer is usually no, however time and relationships suffer and the kids suffer being used like this the most.

    I am not convinced about the court's interest in NRP contact anyway, I have found them to be unwilling to enforce contact orders. If you ask them to, their usual approach is to reduce contact to once per month and beg the woman to please let it happen. other then that they do very little in my (not inconsiderable) experience. Avoid the court like the plague for this, unless you absolutely have to.

    2 bits of advice. 1. Hvae a witness. 2. Have a witness.

    Filming contact handovers can prevent woman assaulting you. Has done for me.

  4. John,

    I have always found that the scenario you paint invariably results in a Court appearance, followed by an entrenchment of attitudes on both sides.

    I did think this advice was particularly naive though:
    I'm not satisfied that your home is suitable for them to stay overnight. OK, this could be reasonable, in which case invite her to your home, to assure her that you do have suitable accommodation. If she refuses, then this could be unreasonable.

    I think inviting her to inspect your accommodation is the last thing either parent will want, or will do. Invariably the man will want to keep his new life separate from her, and she will find fault in anything she can, even the wall paper!

    But still, I do think that it all comes down to how you react to the obstruction, and the advice at the beginning of your article should be stamped on the foreheads of a lot of men.


  5. Swizz, I don't see any problem with trying to deal with matters in a reasonable, sensible way. If she says no, then how can she comment?

  6. John,

    Reasonable and sensible are two words that can seldom be used to describe two parents playing games with each other. If she has never seen his accommodation, then how can she feel justified in stopping the kids from going to Contact. If she has, and it is unsuitable, then any 'reasonable' parent (dad in this case) wouldn't expose his kids to it.

    Add common sense to the 2 words you can't use.


  7. I know what you're saying, but that's just my point: I'm advising against game-playing - take away any excuses for refusing contact, and then the refusal will be unreasonable.

  8. These type of people will always have excuses.

    It is up to the courts and cafcass to see through them and do their job rather than copping out and blaming the bloke and going off to have tea, or whatever they do after 3pm on a Friday afternoon.

  9. I think I may have said it, however the answer is to take a witness to show how the fight started.

    A cheap digital camera has a video record you can do.

    Women do like to play the DV card. Solicitors encourage it. Even if you are like the tv Mr Muscle you often end up accused of rape / torture, abuse assaults, etc. it is extremely common, at least 50% of all divorces I have come accross have false allegations of DV.


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