There are concerns that family courts are not enforcing their own court contact orders in child contact cases after parents have separated. The sanctions for non-compliance are fines, imprisonment or change of the child’s residence. A large part of the problem is that these sanctions for non-compliance with a contact order are often harmful to the child or just impractical. Therefore, a new sanction, unpaid work (community service) was introduced in the Children and Adoption Act 2006. However, this has barely been used by the courts. To date, there has been no research undertaken on these sorts of cases, which would assist policy makers. However, the University of Exeter has undertaken some empirical study and notes the following facts.

  1. Relatively few contact orders return to court seeking enforcement- approximately 1400 per year.
  2. The public view of enforcement cases is of implacably hostile mothers deliberately breaching contact orders and court failing to get tough and ensure compliance.
  3. Implacably hostile mums do exist but they form a small minority of enforcement cases. Most of the cases are where parents’ conflicts with each other prevented them from making a contact order work reliably in practice. The second largest group of cases involved significant safety concerns, followed by cases where older children themselves wanted to reduce or stop contact.
  4. The court’s approach appeared to be determined by the case type. A ‘co-parenting support’ approach was mostly used with conflict cases as a means to set a clearer framework and help parents communicate. A ‘protective approach’ was used mainly with risk cases. A ‘punitive approach’ was used mainly with the few cases that involved implacable hostility.
  5. Cases were generally processed quickly over a shorter period of time and with fewer hearings than the original proceedings. This may suggest that the cases were dealt with limited attention to the underlying causes and effects of the ongoing dispute.
  6. Adequate punitive sanctions are in place, are mostly used when needed and can secure compliance.

For further information or if you need advice and support with any contact orders and other children matters please contact the Family Team at Ringrose Law.

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