Many separated or divorce parents are unable to reach an agreement about the care of their children. Those who cannot reach an agreement amicably can ask the family court to decide. Either parent can make an application for what is known as a Child Arrangements Order to record details of the days and times that a child will spend/live with each parent.

What happens if one parent fails to abide by the terms of the order and denies the other parent access to the children?

A Child Arrangements Order is legally binding. Every order comes with a “warning notice” which states what might happen to a person who does not comply with the terms. That is, the person may be in contempt of court and committed to prison, fined, made to undertake unpaid work or ordered to pay financial compensation. 

If you feel that your former partner has not complied with the terms of a child arrangements order you can make an application to court for an enforcement order. The first thing a court will do is list the application for an initial hearing to consider whether the alleged facts about the alleged breach of the order are agreed or not and if not, whether it is necessary for there to be a hearing to determine those facts. The judge can also consider any reasons given for non-compliance and whether CAFCASS need to be involved, whilst considering the welfare and best interests of the children, as it always must every time a Children Act application comes before the court. 

Having considered all these factors the Court will decide whether there has been a breach of the Child Arrangements Order, without reasonable excuse. When considering an enforcement application, the Court may decide that a variation of the order is appropriate which may include reconsidering child arrangements. In addition, the Court can refer parents to a Separated Parents Information Programme to help them manage conflict.

Be proactive rather than reactive!

Circumstances may well have changed since a Child Arrangements Order was made and a review of that order may be necessary because the arrangements have broken down or no longer work. Rather than blocking time with the children or breaching the order, the better option is to apply to the court to vary the terms of the order. It will be less stressful going to Court to say “we have a problem, can you help us resolve it” than to be taken to court by your ex-partner because you have breached an order, which may put you on the wring foot with the Judge and exposes you to penalties as noted above. It is always best to seek legal advice to try and resolve the problem in a proactive manner.  

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