A #Child Arrangement Order (formerly a #Contact Order) is a court order setting out when a child sees the parent they no longer live with due to their parents separating or divorcing. The terms are often agreed upon in court, but if one party refuses to adhere to their part of the agreement then it can be necessary for the other party to seek an enforcement of the Child Arrangement Order.
While it can be common and understandable for there to be some flexibility around the agreed times, a constant breach of the child arrangement order can be both upsetting and frustrating for the the child concerned or the parent with whom the child does not live.
Such breaches of the child arrangement order can be as simple as never sticking to agreed times to as complex and difficult as deliberately preventing contact from taking place.
What can you do?
The first step must always be to speak to the other parent , no matter how unreasonable they may appear to be. Often a carefully worded letter can help. The courts will expect you to have attempted to resolve the situation yourself and a copy of your letter and any response will be evidence to support your position.
If you have tried to come to an agreement with the other party to no avail, then it can be helpful to have your solicitor send them a letter reminding the other party of the court order and their obligations. If you have chosen not to use a solicitor, an experienced McKenzie Friend with legal expertise (such as Deborah Nelson) can help you draft a letter to the other party.
If, after all reasonable attempts have been made to resolve the situation, then you can consider applying to court to have the child arrangement order enforced.
Enforcing a contact order:
If your child arrangement order has a warning notice attached, you can apply to the court to have the order enforced. If the court is satisfied that the other parent is in breach of the contact order without any reasonable excuse for such a breach, then the court has the power to require them to carry out community service work between 40 and 200 hours, depending on the severity of the breach.
Usually however, the court first approach is often to stress the importance of the order being adhered to, and send the parties away to try again. If that fails, on the second occasion the court may impose a Penal Notice, which states that if the order is not followed, the ‘parent not following the order’ may go to prison.
You may also apply to the court for financial compensation if breach of the child contact order has led to any financial losses on your part, for example, if you had booked a holiday and could not take the holiday.
In some cases, the court can find one party in contempt of court for failing to comply with a child contact order. If one party has persistently breached a child contact order, then they may be held in contempt of court and can be sent to prison or fined.
It is important to consider that the courts do not generally like to impose such penalties for fear it will provoke animosity between the child and their parents, or increase the animosity between both parents. The court will base their decisions on whatever they feel is in the child’s best interest, and the courts view is that it is usually in the child’s best interests to see both parents.
If you find yourself in such a situation in which you may need to apply to the court to enforce a child arrangement order, then contact Deborah Nelson or Jo Stead Burgess for friendly, helpful legal support and expertise.