It is an all too common complaint that courts are slow or reluctant to enforce Contact Orders and indeed that they fail to enforce them at all.
Most of these complaints come from fathers, as they are the people who have the vast majority of Contact Orders.
This leads to immense frustration on behalf of Contact Order holders and it also puts the lawyers in quite a difficult position in giving effective legal advice.
The court will usually investigate the extent and the exact circumstances of the breaches of the order alleged and in particular why they have occurred.
Courts always put the welfare of the child at the centre of any case and thus by definition the rights of any parents secondary.
Unfortunately, even where Contact Orders have been breached without good reason, courts often do not apply sanctions.
We hope that it is fair to say that the historical laxity of courts is beginning to change, but it is still an uphill struggle.
In H-R (children), two children aged 8 and 7 live with their mother and the father applied for a Contact Order. Two years later the Contact Order was made for Sunday lunch visits between 11am and 2pm.
The husband alleged failure to comply and there was a hearing on 1 July 2013 which the wife failed to attend. There was an adjourned hearing on 5 August 2013 which she did attend and it was agreed that the Contact Order arrangements would be altered so that the contact would take place between Friday at 6pm and Saturday at 5pm. A final hearing being listed, then, for November 2013.
Despite this, there was another hearing as contact did not take place as ordered. Hearings were fixed for 23 September, 11 October and 22 November but the mother failed to attend on all three occasions.
The matter was then transferred to the Circuit Bench and a new hearing date set for 23 January 2014. Mother again did not attend.
On 1 February a new Contact Order was put in place requiring contact to take place every Saturday between 4pm and 7pm with a specific handover location. Contact did not take place pursuant to that Order and in desperation the father issued an Application for the mother’s committal to prison for breach of that Order.
On the hearing of that Application on 7 March, the mother did attend but left the building before the hearing took place. The Judge made a 21-day Committal Order suspended on terms that mum complied with the Contact Order.
Contact did not take place and the mother failed to appear at the next return date on 4 April 2014. It was adjourned on that day and when it came back into court the Judge was very unhappy, not least for the continued failure by the mother to comply with the Order but also there was a suspended Committal Order in the air which the mother appeared to have taken little notice of.
Accordingly, the Judge made an immediate Order for the mother to be committed to prison for 21 days.
So ultimately, a Judge did commit a mother for breach of Contact Orders, but if you look at the timescale it is from the date that the husband applied for a Contact Order in April 2011 to the final hearing on 11 April 2014. So a full 3 years of breaches before the courts were prepared to commit a serial offender as a penalty for these breaches.
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