Assuming that there is not yet a court order in place, the first point to note is that there is no obligation on the primary carer to agree to their ex-partner having contact with the children. This particularly applies if there is a genuine concern that the children will be at risk in their care, or will not be returned.
Ideally when two parents separate, they will be able to reach an agreement as to the children’s living arrangements and as to what contact the non-resident parent should have with them. Such an agreement may be reached directly or with the help of a family member or mutual friend. If parties cannot reach an agreement directly then mediation is often a positive way to try to resolve any dispute. Ultimately if contact cannot be agreed between separated parents then the proper way for contact to be sought is by making an application at Court for a Child Arrangements Order.
The Court’s approach is that, unless there are exceptional circumstances, it is generally in each child’s best interests to maintain a relationship with both parents. Therefore if the primary carer of a child prevents all contact without good reason, they may leave themselves open to criticism, and are likely to find that the Court will order contact in any event. However, if there is good reason for preventing contact then the Court will be able to consider the risk factors and take steps to alleviate them. For example, the Court could order the delivery of the children’s passports, make an Order that the children must not be removed or retained from the primary carer without consent, direct that the non-resident parent take a parenting course or attend a Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programme, or direct that any contact be supervised by a third party or take place in a contact centre.
Whilst there is no obligation on the primary carer to permit their ex-partner contact where there is no court order in force, the situation is different where these is a Child Arrangements Order in place. If the terms of a Child Arrangements Order are breached, this is technically considered a contempt of court, which in serious circumstances can lead to that party being ordered to carry out unpaid work, fined or even imprisoned. This means that great caution must be taken before deliberately breaching a Child Arrangements Order. If a Child Arrangements Order is not working for some reason then, instead of breaching the Order, an urgent application should be made to vary the terms of the Order. Where there is a genuine concern and good reason to believe that a child will be at real risk if the Child Arrangements Order is complied with, then a party would not be expected to place that child in a position of danger. However, any decision not to comply with the terms of a Child Arrangements Order must be accompanied by an urgent application to the Court seeking to vary the terms of the Child Arrangements Order and setting out the basis for the serious concerns.
Given the potential consequences of failing to comply with a Child Arrangements Order, we would always recommend seeking urgent legal advice prior to breaching such an Order. Given that every child contact dispute is different, it is usually very beneficial for parties to seek early advice from a family solicitor in any event.
3 Hazelgrove Road, Haywards Heath, West Sussex,
We do not have public parking at our office but there are pay and display car parks a few minutes walk away on St Joseph's Way and St Wilfred's Way, by the Tesco Express and Orchard Shopping Centre.
If you are using public transport we are a 20 minute walk from Haywards Heath train station and a short walk from a number of bus stops.