Wednesday, 6 June 2007

New law to help prevent broken contact orders

The Draft Children (Contact) and Adoption Bill has been passed by Parliament. This legislation widens the powers of the court in relation to enforcing Contact Orders where the children are habitually resident in England and Wales.

Previously, the Court had limited powers to compel a resident parent to adhere to a Contact Order. Penalties were limited to committing the resident parent to jail, fining them, or amending the Residence Order in favour of the contact parent.

A Judge would be highly unlikely to fine a parent, or jail them due to the adverse affect on the children of the family. Similarly, a change in residence could cause significant disruption for them. For this reason, many parents and grandparents lost contact with their children, as an implacably hostile resident parent frustrated attempts at contact.

The Court has new powers under this act, both in terms of assisting the parties to reach agreement, and imposing "softer" and more practical penalties. These include:

Measures to Assist

A] The use of family assistance orders with a Court Welfare Officer assisting with contact. (see Section 6(3) of the Act).

B] The Court can direct that a Court Welfare Officer monitors contact (see section 2(2) of the act) for up to 12 months (see section 2(6) of the Act).

C] The Court can require an individual who is a party to contact (e.g. the resident or non-resident parent or others named on the order) to undertake counselling or guidance classes that may assist in maintaining, improving or establishing contact (see section 5(a) of the Act).

Measures to Enforce

D] When a Contact Order is made or varied, a Notice of Warning will now be attached setting out the consequences of failing to adhere to the order (see section 3 of the Act).

E] The Court can fine the party responsible for the breach in the event that the other party has suffered financial loss as a result of the breach e.g. for cancelled holidays (see section 5 of the Act).

F] Where it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that a person has failed to comply with the terms of a Contact Order, the Court can make an 'enforcement order' requiring that the person undertake unpaid work e.g. community service (see section 4(2) of the Act).

The Court will not make an enforcement order or compensation order if the person in breach of the Contact Order has a 'reasonable' excuse for the breach having occurred. The person in breach of the Contact Order bears the responsibility for proving they have such an reasonable excuse (see section 4(4) of the Act).

It's anticipated that the new measures contained within the act will start to come into force from October 2007, with the parts relating to Family Assistance Orders and Risk Assessment coming in first.

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