It is an absolute fact that in the majority of cases, children benefit from a close relationship with both parents. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons that is not always easily arranged between separating parents where one can refuse to allow contact to take place.
Applications to court for orders for contact (previously known as access) with children can be long, unpleasant and costly exercises. It can also be a case of rubbing salt into the wound when the orders are willfully and deliberately ignored by one parent. Enforcement of contact orders has been rather hit and miss in the past, but new laws and guidance to the courts introduced in April mean that there are now much better prospects of enforcing these orders. The change is set out in Section 11 of the Children and Families Act, which introduces a presumption that both parents should be involved, directly or indirectly with a child’s welfare, which will include issues such as contact.
There are various methods of enforcing a contact order including; fines, compensation, enforcement orders for unpaid work, change in residence of a child and even committal to prison in extreme cases.
Recently the former President of the Family Division has called for better and more effective enforcement of orders, so as to ensure that children actually get to see both parents on a regular basis in compliance with the decision of the court. Frequently the lack of compliance with the order is on the part of the residential parent, who prevents the other parent from having contact.
In an interview with Families Need Fathers, Lady Butler-Sloss said: “I can see absolutely no reason why he/she shouldn’t do community service. I should like to see him/her penalised in all sorts of inconvenient ways as long as it doesn’t have any impact on his/her care of the child. So as long as the child is over five or goes to a child minder, then there is no reason why he/she shouldn’t be required to go and clean the streets or whatever it may be. I would make him/her do something really unpleasant so that he/she understands the consequences of this.”
Given that the courts are likely to enforce orders more rigorously in the future it is imperative that the correct order is obtained in the actual proceedings, either by agreement or by a successful application/defence to an application. In these circumstances good legal advice should always be sought to avoid the applications becoming a long and unpleasant exercise.
For more information on child contact or any other family matters, please contact a member of our Family team on 01625 442100.