Guide to the enforcement of child contact arrangements
Any contact orders made after 2008 should include a standard warning notice at the bottom of the order. This notice warns the parties of the consequences of failing to comply with the order. The notice will explain that if the order is breached the court has the power to order the parent in breach to carry out unpaid work (between 40 and 200 hours), to order the parent in breach to pay the other parent financial compensation, or even imprison the parent in breach and ultimately transfer the residence of the child to the other parent. For contact orders made before 2008 an application can be made to add the warning notice to the order if necessary. To enforce an order a fresh court application for enforcement is required.
Enforcement proceedings can only be taken where one party refuses to return the child or allow contact to take place in accordance with the order. You cannot make an application to force your former partner to have the children as per the terms of the order.
When making a decision the paramount consideration of the court is the welfare of the child. The court will not make an enforcement order where it believes that the party had a reasonable excuse for breaching the order. Any enforcement order, whether unpaid work, financial or imprisonment will most likely have an adverse impact on the child. It is therefore a careful balancing act between punishing the parent in breach and upholding the child’s best interests. Only as a last resort will a parent be committed to prison, as this will clearly have a negative effect on the child.
In some cases it is necessary to breach a contact order to protect a child’s safety or welfare. If you find yourself in this situation it is advisable to seek legal advice immediately. It may be the case that you will need to issue an emergency application to the court. The court is more likely to look favourably on a parent that has actively dealt with their concerns rather than one who withholds a child without explanation.
If you are interested in discussing an enforcement of child contact arrangements please see How Vardags can help with the enforcement of child contact arrangements.