Child Arrangement Orders and Enforcement

By Georgina Catlin, 15th June 2020

We are seeing a further relaxing of the social distancing rules, with “support bubbles” for single parent households, but what happens if you are still not being allowed to see your children despite there being a court order in place? – Georgina outlines the key principles a court will consider when applying to enforce a Child Arrangements Order

We have already seen widespread guidance issued soon after the start of the lockdown by the President of the Family Law Division, Sir Andrew Mcfarlane:. read more here.

The key message regarding current Child Arrangement Orders is this:

“Where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child”.

CAFCASS, the advisory service to the Court, have also issued helpful guidance for children and parents struggling to communicate with each other during the lockdown here. Click here for more information. 

Many parents have successfully been able to agree variations to the wording of the Order, with lots of alternative methods of communication put in place such as video or telephone calls.

However, some parents may not have had direct contact with their children for nearly 3 months. During the initial lockdown period, and depending on the type of work either parent has been able to continue with, ceasing the original arrangements may have seemed like a reasonable decision at the time.  But how long should this be allowed to continue before returning to the original order?

At what point does “acting reasonably and sensibly” turn into one parent seeking to unilaterally vary the original order?     

From 13th June the lockdown rules are relaxing, with single parent households having the option to create a “support bubble” with one other household.  However, many non-resident parents may be excluded from this, if the other parent is still refusing to allow the original arrangement to recommence under the guise of concerns relating to COVID-19.

Enforcement

Where the court considers that there has been a breach of an order without reasonable excuse, the court has the power to make the following orders:

  1. Referral of both parties to a parenting course or mediation
  2. A variation of the arrangements
  3. Make an enforcement order or suspended enforcement order, which could mean you are ordered to carry out unpaid work
  4. An order for compensation due to financial loss
  5. Committal to prison and/or a fine

The severity of the enforcement order or punishment depends on the circumstances of the breach. 

The concerns relating to the pandemic of COVID-19 are quite unique.  The bottom line is this, if the court is satisfied that the parent acted reasonably, it is very unlikely to make a draconian order punishing a parent.  That being said, an application for enforcement will certainly bring the issue of breach to the court’s attention and will force the other parent to address the reasoning as to the breach.  Ultimately, the child’s welfare will be the court’s paramount concern and each case will depend on its own set of circumstances. 

If you are concerned that the spirit of your child arrangements order is not being followed, contact Georgina Catlin to discuss enforcement options now on 01249 812086 or georginacatlin@goughs.co.uk. Click here to book your free initial 30 minute consultation.