Following the breakdown of a relationship, the first thing to do is try to agree matters relating to the child’s (or children’s) living arrangements and contact with the other parent. If there are difficulties in agreeing such matters directly then mediation can be very beneficial in helping parents reach an agreement amicably. Sometimes however, an ex-partner may be adamant that they will not agree to any contact between the children and the other parent. In such circumstances, an application to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order to determine the issue may well be inevitable.
At the first hearing, following an application, the Court will consider the respective positions of the resident parent (the parent who the child lives with) and the non-resident parent (the parent who the child does not live with) including the reason for the resident parent’s opposition to any contact. Such reasons often include alleging that the non-resident parent has been abusive towards them or the child, that the non-resident parent is incapable of looking after the child safely, or that the child is strenuously opposed to any contact.
The Court will consider the parties’ positions and is then likely to make directions in order to seek further information concerning the issues raised. This could involve evidence-gathering and a fact-finding hearing to determine the extent of any alleged abuse, alcohol or drug testing of either parent, obtaining disclosure from the police or local authority, or directing CAFCASS (the Court advisory service) or the local authority to make enquiries and prepare a detailed report setting out their recommendations to the Court, which often takes into account the wishes and feelings of the child.
If there are issues of domestic abuse or substance abuse then the Court will consider whether contact can take place safely or whether further steps are required to address the issues. This can include the non-resident parent’s attendance on a Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programme or at an addiction treatment centre.
If the problem relates to the children stating that they do not want any contact with the non-resident parent then the Court will need to consider the circumstances and the best method of addressing the issue. It is generally considered in every child’s best interests to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents, but the Court will need to consider the child’s age and the reason for their opposition to contact. Depending on the circumstances, the possibility of parental alienation may need to be considered. This would involve trying to understand the child’s opposition to contact and whether this relates to their own experience, or whether they have simply been influenced by the resident parent. If a child is strongly resistant to contact then it may be that some form of therapy or counselling is directed with a view to trying to persuade the child to resume contact with the non-resident parent, provided that this can be done safely and is considered in the child’s best interests.
There are occasions where, even after Court proceedings have concluded and an Order is made for contact, the resident parent remains obstructive to such contact in breach of the Order. In such circumstances, consideration will need to be given as to enforcement of the Child Arrangements Order and the best method of doing so, taking into account the child’s best interests. As breach of a Child Arrangements Order is considered a contempt of Court, a deliberate breach can result in that party being fined, or even imprisoned (although this is rare). The Court can also direct that the party who breached the Order be required to carry out unpaid work. In exceptional circumstances the Court may even form the view that if the resident parent will not allow contact with the other parent under any circumstances, then it is in the child’s best interests for them to live with the other parent instead, on the basis that they would promote the child’s relationship with both parents. Whilst there are various methods of enforcing a Child Arrangements Order if necessary, the reality is that in the majority of cases, the mere threat of such methods of enforcement are sufficient to ensure that any Child Arrangements Order is ultimately complied with.
Given that every child contact dispute is different and individual circumstances vary greatly, we would always urge parties to seek early advice from a family solicitor in the event that they are prevented from having contact with their child to ensure that matters are addressed swiftly and appropriately.
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.
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