When a couple separate, reaching an agreement about the care of their children can be difficult. Often, couples will be able to agree living and contact arrangements for children between themselves. However, if an agreement cannot be reached, or there are other factors within the relationship that might make coming to an agreement more difficult, the family court can become involved to grant a Child Arrangements Order.
A Child Arrangements Order is a legally binding court order that specifies who has responsibility for the care of a child, including who they live with and how often they will see both parents. Sarah Warby, Family Law Paralegal at Hegarty Solicitors discusses what happens if one parent breaches a Child Arrangements Order by refusing to allow contact with the other parent.
Mr A and Miss B have a Court Order in place that specifies that, Miss B agrees to make their child available for contact with Mr A on alternate weekends, a midweek contact and contact on one day at the weekend when Mr A is not having alternate weekend staying contact. Mr A and Miss B agreed to arrange handovers between themselves and to agree to such other contact as Mr A and Miss B may agree between themselves.
Miss B stopped contact without any reason; however, after a period of time, Miss B said that she would let Mr A see their child. Unfortunately, Miss B changed her mind and is now not allowing Mr A to see their child as Miss B states that their child does not want to see Mr A. Mr A has not seen his child since.
What should Mr A do first?
We would always advise seeking the advice of a family law professional. Many legal firms will offer an initial fixed fee appointment to discuss your specific situation and offer initial advice on next steps to enforce the Child Arrangements Order.
What can Mr A do to enforce the Child Arrangements Order?
If Miss B has failed to keep to a Child Arrangements Order, Mr A may wish to ask the Family Court to enforce the Order.
The court can only make an enforcement order if it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Miss B has failed to keep to the Child Arrangements Order, and if it is in the best interests of the children.
If it is deemed that the Child Arrangements Order has been broken by Miss B without reasonable excuse, Mr A may apply to the Family Court using Application Form C79, together with a Statement of Support detailing:
● why they are making the application
● what the facts and issues were which resulted in the breach, for example, when and how existing
arrangements have broken down
● details of their last contact and whether this was indirect or direct contact
● the date the parties’ relationship commenced and ended
● a brief summary of the existing contact arrangements by attaching a copy of the Court Order
What are the consequences of Miss B failing to comply with a court order?
If Miss B has failed to keep to a Child Arrangements Order, she may be ‘in contempt of court’ and could be fined or sent to prison.
When making an application to the court to enforce a Child Arrangements Order, Mr A can ask for a community-based order requiring Miss B to carry out unpaid work (this is known as an enforcement order) or to award financial compensation from Miss B to Mr A, for example, if the cost of a holiday has been lost as a result of a contact order being broken. The person who has lost the money can apply for a financial compensation order.
In order to apply for an enforcement order or financial compensation, there must be a Child Arrangements Order containing a warning notice (such orders were issued on or after 8 December 2008) and a failure to keep to the Child Arrangements Order.
If the Child Arrangements Order was made prior to 8 December 2008, then an application will need to be made on Application Form C78 for the Attachment of a Warning Notice to a Child Arrangements Order. This amended order will then be sent to the other party so that they are aware of the consequences of their breach.
● Disagreements around child contact can be stressful, and it is important to seek advice and support if you are experiencing an issue with a Child Arrangements Order. An experienced family legal adviser can support you through the process of enforcing a Child Arrangements Order. Contact the Hegarty Solicitors Family Department for advice and support on 01733 346333 or email or visit www.hegarty.co.uk.