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Parents beware – there can be serious consequences if you fail to comply with the terms of a Contact Order

The Court has decided that a judge had been entitled to transfer residence of a six-year-old child from his mother to his father following the mother's failures to comply with contact orders.

The parents had separated before the child’s birth. The child had lived with mother as his primary carer. Court proceedings had been ongoing since 2010 to try facilitate contact between the child and his father; the proceedings were intractably opposed by the mother.

There was no factual basis for the mother’s antagonistic approach and the father’s contact throughout the case was unimpeachable. The mother had however ignored orders made by the Court for the child to have contact with his father and the mother had failed to turn up to Court hearings. The mother also changed her and the child’s address twice without informing the father or the Court. The mother finally attended a hearing, when threatened with contempt proceedings, at which the judge made a further contact order but even that was wholly ineffective.

As a result of the mother’s conduct the father applied to court for residence of the child. The Court has the power to switch residence of a child in some cases where the resident parent for the child is not supporting the child having a relationship with the non resident parent. This is of course not a step the Court will take lightly.

CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) carried out a report on the father which was positive, but reminded the judge that the transfer of residence was a last resort and questioned whether it should take place before enforcement of contact orders had been tried. The judge felt however that the time for enforcement of the Court's powers was long gone. The judge subsequently made a residence order in the father’s favour with the mother being granted visiting contact with the child.

It was the mother’s position that a further CAFCASS report should have been obtained and that she should have been granted an adjournment to allow her to consider additional evidence of a police log showing that the child had been observed refusing contact with the father.

When considering the mother’s appeal against the decision the Court held that the judge who made the order had addressed the CAFCASS officer's concerns so there was no need for a further report. The Court acknowledged that the child was only six years old and his wishes had been canvassed, but they had to be considered in light of his age and understanding. It was felt that evidence of the police log would have got the mother nowhere and that the basis for changing the child’s residence was not triggered by the child’s refusal to attend a contact with the father but by the mother’s conduct over a long period.

If you need advice about obtaining or enforcing an order relating to the arrangements for your child, or if you need assistance opposing such orders contact one of our Specialist Family Law  team.

By Gemma Hope

RE L (A CHILD) (2014)