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Christmas is rapidly approaching, and families across the country are finalising their holiday plans.

For some families, this isn’t always an easy task, particularly when parents have separated or divorced. In these cases, the decision about where a child should spend the festive period can be fraught with disagreement and heartache.

In cases where parents are unable to agree about a child’s living arrangements, or with whom they spend time, it’s sometimes necessary for the Court to get involved. When mediation has proved unsuccessful (and domestic abuse is not an issue), a Child Arrangements Order (previously known as a ‘child residence order’ or ‘child contact order’) will be issued by the Court to clarify a child’s living arrangements.

Unfortunately, however, once these orders are made, they are not always complied with. When this happens, the person failing to comply could be held in contempt of court, which could mean fines, enforcement orders and even imprisonment.

With this in mind, we’ve put together some brief guidelines on what to do if your ex-partner does breach a Child Arrangement Order, not only during the Christmas holidays, but also throughout the year.

Breaching a Contact Order

When a Child Arrangement Order is issued, it will have specific conditions attached to it. These could include:

  • With whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact; 
  • Where a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person; and 
  • When a child does any of the above. 

Agreements for holidays such as birthdays and Christmas should also be defined within the Child Arrangement Order.

Breaches of child arrangement orders can be minor or major (such as preventing contact). However minor these breaches may seem, it’s important to keep a record of them, as evidence of a series of minor breaches on top of a major breach may make the difference between a judge reprimanding your ex-partner and their altering the order (in order to reduce contact, for example).

It is important to note that generally, the police will not get involved in breaches of court orders where the child is with a person with parental responsibility, even if you make allegations of abuse. In cases where abuse is an issue, the correct procedure is to apply to the court for an emergency (same day) enforcement order, which may result in the police accompanying a CAFCASS officer to remove the child from the other party’s care.

Read more: The Role of a CAFCASS Officer in Children Proceedings

In non-emergency cases (such as when conditions are seriously or repeatedly breached without reasonable excuse) you can apply to the court to enforce the order.

Make an Application to Enforce a Contact Order

If your child arrangement order was issued on or after the 8 December 2008, it will contain a warning notice about the consequences of failing to comply with its requirements.

If the contact order was made before this date, it will not contain a warning. If this is the case, you must make an application for a warning notice to be attached to the order before you can apply for an enforcement order.

Applying to court for an enforcement order can be confusing, but Howells Solicitors can help. Our specialist Child Care department can advise you and ensure your position is fairly represented in court.

To benefit from the assistance of an experienced and sensitive team of child law solicitors, call us on 0808 178 2773.

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