Surge in cases
It has been reported that lawyers have been inundated with inquiries from separated parents arguing about where their children should stay during the Coronavirus lockdown. The report suggests, amongst other things, that some parents are using the lockdown as an excuse to stop the other parent from seeing their children, citing the risk of the children catching the virus as a reason.
So what can you do if the other parent is stopping you from seeing your children, in breach of a contact order (i.e. a child arrangements order specifying when your children are to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with you)?
Well, there are a number of ways to enforce a contact order. However, before we look at some of them, we should make a couple of points.
Obviously, enforcing a contact order involves taking your case back to the court and asking the court to enforce the order. The family courts are still operating under the lockdown, but unfortunately the lockdown and social distancing rules are having a serious effect upon the amount of cases that the courts can deal with. You may therefore have to wait considerably longer than usual for your case to be heard, and this situation is likely to last for some time to come.
The second point is that, as we mentioned here recently, the President of the Family Division has specifically stated that where parents do not agree to vary the arrangements set out in a child arrangements order, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the arrangements would be against current public health advice, then that parent may vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe. However, that parent must bear in mind that if the case subsequently goes back to court the court is likely to look to see whether they acted reasonably and sensibly, in the light of official advice.
If you ask the court to enforce the contact order the court will want to know why the order has not been complied with, and may considering varying the terms of the order to ensure future compliance. This may also involve reconsidering the children’s living arrangements.
Otherwise, if there is no good reason why the other parent has not complied with the order then the court can take various actions, including:
1. Making an enforcement order, requiring the parent in breach of the contact order to do between 40 and 200 hours of unpaid work.
2. Making an order requiring the parent in breach to compensate you for any financial loss you have suffered as a result of the breach.
3. Imposing a fine on the parent in breach of the contact order.
4. Lastly, in the most serious cases, the court can commit the parent in breach to prison for contempt of court.
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Obviously, the above is just a very brief outline of the law. For further advice in relation to your own circumstances, including how to go about applying for enforcement, you should consult an expert family lawyer, before taking any action. Family Law Café can put you in touch with an expert – call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.
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