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Coronavirus - Enforcing Child Arrangement Orders

on Wednesday, 29 April 2020.

We have been inundated with calls from concerned parents about how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the government lockdown is affecting their child arrangements.

Many are concerned about the impact that changes to their usual arrangements would have on their relationship with their child. The enquiries came from parents who had informal arrangements, as well as those with court orders in place. This article specifically focuses on enforcing child arrangements if you have a child arrangement order.

What Is a Child Arrangement Order?

Child arrangement orders (CAOs) regulate with whom a child should live, spend time, or have contact with. For those parents that have had court arrangements prior to April 2014, you may be more familiar with the terms residence order and contact order. CAOs have replaced these historic orders.

Enforcing the Order

If a party has failed to follow the arrangements set out in a child arrangement order, you may wish to ask the court to enforce the order. If the arrangement has been broken without "reasonable excuse" you may apply to the court:

  • for an enforcement order (requirement to do between 40 and 200 hours unpaid work); or
  • to award financial compensation, eg if one parent has suffered a financial loss as a result of the other parent breaking the contact arrangements.

If either parent fails to keep to a CAO they may be "in contempt of court" and be sent to prison or fined.

To apply for an enforcement order or for financial compensation, you need to check that your CAO contains a warning notice.

The court can only make an order if it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a party has failed to keep to the CAO. The court will not make an order if the other party can establish on the balance on probabilities that they had a reasonable excuse.

Next Steps

Once an application is made to the court, the court will consider the basis of the application and if it sees fit, will issue the application. In determining the application, the court will:

  • consider whether the facts about the alleged non-compliance are agreed, or whether it is necessary to list the matter for a hearing;
  • consider why the parent has not complied with the CAO;
  • consider how to ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child (if appropriate);
  • assess and manage any risks of making further or other CAOs;
  • consider whether it is appropriate to require the parents to attend a separated parents information programme;
  • consider whether an enforcement order (unpaid work) may be appropriate;
  • consider the welfare checklist.

In the current circumstances, it is difficult to know how long it will take a court to list a hearing and court capacity can change daily, so it may be worth contacting your local court to ask them about listing time.

How Can We Help?

Our specialist team of family lawyers are still continuing to work and are on hand to help with any of your family related queries.

Coronavirus Legal Advice

If you would like to discuss your circumstances in more detail, please contact Sam Hickman in our Family Law team on 07464 544 828, or complete the form below.


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