Knowing how epithelial cells regulate cell-matrix and cell-cell adhesions is essential to understand key events in morphogenesis as well as pathological events such as metastasis. During epithelial cell scattering, epithelial cell islands rupture their cell-cell contacts and migrate away as single cells on the extracellular matrix (ECM) within hours of growth factor stimulation, even as adhesion molecules such as E-cadherin are present at the cell-cell contact. How the stability of cell-cell contacts is modulated to effect such morphological transitions is still unclear. Here, we report that in the absence of ECM, E-cadherin adhesions continue to sustain substantial cell-generated forces upon hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) stimulation, consistent with undiminished adhesion strength. In the presence of focal adhesions, constraints that preclude the spreading and movement of cells at free island edges also prevent HGF-mediated contact rupture. To explore the role of cell motion and cell-cell contact rupture, we examine the biophysical changes that occur during the scattering of cell pairs. We show that the direction of cell movement with respect to the cell-cell contact is correlated with changes in the average intercellular force as well as the initial direction of cell-cell contact rupture. Our results suggest an important role for protrusive activity resulting in cell displacement and force redistribution in guiding cell-cell contact rupture during scattering.