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Children disputes – breaking a child arrangements order

20 May 2021 | Louise Kiely

What is a child arrangements order?

The family court can issue a child arrangements order to clarify a child’s living arrangements when separated parents cannot agree. This order is legally binding and breaking a child arrangements order amounts to contempt of court. This can lead to a fine, enforcement order and on rare occasions imprisonment.

What can I do if the other parent is breaking the court order?

It is advisable to keep a diary of any breaches that occur, whether they are minor or major. This evidences the difficulties faced and provides a clear picture of the breach.

If you are able to discuss the breach with the other parent, then you should do so as it is always better to try to resolve any issues away from court. It may be worth considering mediation if you feel you cannot discuss matters without an independent third-party present.

Returning to court should always be the last option as it is often time consuming, stressful and can be expensive. However, if you are left with no option other than to vary or enforce the court order then you must make an application to the court.

Can you change a court order?

It is possible to vary a child arrangements order after it has been made. You can ask the court to vary the order if an agreement cannot be reached between both parents.

To apply for a variation, you will need to complete a C100 application form and explain why you are asking the court to vary the child arrangements order.

The court will only vary a child arrangements order if they consider it to be in the best interests of the child to do so.

How do you enforce a court order?

An application to the Family Court for enforcement is made using form C79. You should make the application without delay and a hearing should be listed within 20 days of the court receiving the application. The court will send you the hearing date notice.

What will the court consider when deciding to enforce?

The court will consider various things when reviewing an application to enforce a child arrangements order.  They will consider the following:

  • Whether the facts for the alleged non-compliance are agreed;
  • Reasons given for any breach;
  • The child’s wishes and feelings (age appropriate);
  • Whether advice is required from Cafcass (Cafcass is the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service who promote the welfare of children and families involved in family court) ;
  • Any risks of making further or other child arrangements orders;
  • Whether a separated parents information programme is appropriate;
  • Whether an enforcement order is appropriate; and
  • The welfare checklist (a list of factors the court are required to take into account).

What are the penalties for a breaching a court order? 

A warning notice is included at the top of all child arrangements orders, this sets out the consequences to both parties about what will happen if they breach the order.

The court has powers available to them when considering an application to enforce a child arrangements order as follows:

  • Referral of both parents to a separated parents information programme or mediation;
  • Unpaid work requirement of between 40 and 200 hours where the court is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that one party has failed to comply with a provision of the order;
  • A fine;
  • An order for compensation for any financial loss;
  • A contact enforcement order;
  • Committal to prison (in very rare/serious cases); or
  • Changing which party the child or children live with (in very extreme/serious cases)/variation of the child arrangements order to include a more defined order.

Specialist legal advice

If you are facing a dispute over child arrangements and confused about the process, or would like to discuss your situation with a legal expert, we are here to help. Call our team of friendly family solicitors by calling 0117 906 9400 or email hello@gl.law

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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