Getting in touch with your child’s other parent

If you want to change your child’s name, you’ll need to consult with everyone with parental responsibility. You may not be in contact with your child’s other parent any more (or with another parent who has parental responsibility), but there are a number of ways of finding out where they are.

Different ways of finding someone

Search for them yourself

Most people find it easiest to start looking themselves.  Different ways to do this include:

  • asking friends and family if they have any information that could help you
  • searching online ‘social networks’ such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Friends Reunited
  • sending a letter to the last address you have for them — it may get sent on to them
  • looking in online directories such as Yell ↗ and ↗ (which will search the electoral register)
  • searching online for “trace someone”. You’ll find lots more ideas, as well as information about getting professionals to look for you.

Ask someone to help you

There are a few organisations that can sometimes help you find a person:

The courts

Usually, you can only use the courts to trace someone if they owe you money. It can also take a long time and be expensive. For more information about using the courts, speak to Citizens’ Advice (you can either visit your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau, or if you live in England you can call 08444 111 444).

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army has a Family Tracing Service ↗ which has an 85% success rate in tracing lost family members. However, it will only be able to help you if you are, or were, married to the other parent. You’ll also have to pay a registration fee of £ 45 (or £ 25 if your only income is state support).

Tracing agencies

This group includes:

  • private investigators
  • process servers (who serve legal documents on people)
  • enforcement agents (who collect debts and seize property).

If you’re thinking about using a tracing agency, remember:

  • Tracing agencies charge a fee, so check carefully before you agree to anything. The cost usually depends on how difficult the search is and how much information you can give them about the person you are looking for.
  • Tracing agencies sometimes offer a ‘no trace, no fee’ service, especially if you are able to provide some basic details about the person you’re looking for — for example, their name, date of birth and last known address.
  • Traces can usually take up to a month, though simple ones can often be done more quickly, sometimes on the same day.

Because of the kind of day-to-day work tracing agencies do, such as serving legal documents and chasing people for money, the other parent may feel threatened if you choose to use a service like this. It’s important to remember this, and you may want to try your other options first before you go to a tracing agency.

You can find a tracing agency by searching online or looking in a phone book, but take care to only use professionally accredited agencies. You may want to start by going to the website of one of the professional bodies that regulates the industry, such as the Institute of Professional Investigators ↗ or the Association of British Investigators ↗.

Use the statutory child maintenance services

The Child Support Agency (CSA) and the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), the government’s statutory child maintenance services ↗, can find parents to set up a child maintenance arrangement. This service has improved over the last few years, including having better links with other government departments. So even if they haven’t been able to help you in the past, it may be worth talking to them again now.

Remember that some people have mixed feelings about the statutory child maintenance services. If you want to build a relationship with the other parent you might want to consider using a different way of finding them.

Usually, the statutory services can only open a case when both parents and the child or children live in the U.K., unless the other parent works for a U.K.-based company or for the U.K. civil service overseas.

If you want the Child Support Agency or the Child Maintenance Service to try to trace someone you need to open a case with them first. If you contact your local CSA office ↗, they’ll tell you which service will manage your case, or you can get more information from Child Maintenance Options by calling 0800 988 0988.

How to approach the other parent

It’s a big jump from having no contact with someone to asking them for permission to change your child’s name. Think about the type of contact that will work best for your situation — whether this is a letter or e‑mail, phone call or visit.

Remember to take things slowly. The person you’re contacting may be surprised, or even shocked, to hear from you, and might not be sure if they want to talk. You’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about getting in touch, so give them some time to get used to the idea too.

Choosing the best approach

  • A letter will give them time to think, and give you time to work out what you want to say. Some people can find them a bit too formal though.
  • A phone call can feel more personal but it might put the other person on the spot, especially if you happen to call at an awkward time.
  • E‑mails can be a good compromise, because they can seem a bit less ‘official’ but you can still take your time to think things through. E‑mail addresses can sometimes be unreliable though — they often change, or may not be checked regularly.

Everyone’s different, so it’s up to you how you get in touch.

If you’ve not spoken to the other parent for a while, you might find the thought of getting in touch a bit overwhelming. When speaking (or writing) to the other person, focus on what’s important now — your child, rather than your past relationship. Try not to get drawn into old arguments, and keep your tone positive — or at least neutral.

Getting your letter or e-mail right

E‑mails and letters give you a chance to put your thoughts in order first, but once they’re sent they can’t be undone. It’s also easy for emotions to affect the way you say something — and if you’re caught up in what you’re doing you might not spot this straight away.

It’s worth keeping this in mind when you’re writing, and to spend some time reading through what you’ve put.

You may want to leave your message for a couple of days and look at it again before sending it. It may even take a few goes before you get it right, but this is likely to be time well spent. Some people find it useful to let someone else read a message before they send it.

Preparing yourself for their reaction

If your child has the other parent's surname, and you want to take it away, they may be offended, or — at the least — not too happy about the idea. Removing their surname may be cutting off the last remaining link to their child.

How the other parent reacts when you get in touch with them may also depend on your circumstances now, and theirs. Things that can affect their reaction include:

  • their feelings about your old relationship, and yours
  • the reasons why you lost touch in the first place
  • whether either of you has a new family

You should also think about whether you’re prepared to compromise with the other parent, if they don’t initially agree with your request. For instance, if the other parent doesn’t want to have their own surname taken away, you could suggest using a double-barrelled surname (made up of both your surnames) instead.

Your feelings can affect the conversation too. The way people say things can often be the reason a conversation goes well or badly, rather than the point they’re putting across.  The suggestions below may help you find the right way to say something.

  • Misunderstandings often turn into arguments because something isn’t clear.  Try to explain exactly what you mean when you say something, and let the other person do the same.
  • Sweeping statements can make a situation worse, so try not to use phrases that sound like an accusation, like “you never…” or “you always…”.

If you’re the parent with the main day-to-day care of your child, the other parent may worry that you’re just chasing them for child maintenance — especially if you’ve argued over money in the past. In this situation, do your best to reassure them that your main concern is what’s best for your child.

This page contains some public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0 ↗