Breach of child arrangements order – What are my options?

Navigating decisions about arrangements for the children, house rules and holidays can be a very difficult task for separated parents. In cases where an impasse is irreconcilable, it may be necessary to secure a Child Arrangements Order to clarify matters and enable the parties to move on with their lives. Here, Agata Napora looks at the consequences if Court Orders aren’t followed.


Initial Steps

A constant breach can be very upsetting and cause a lot of uncertainty for the other parent and the child concerned which is far from desirable and should be handled with care. In first instance we would recommend that you always try to address all the issues direct as this may help break the ice between you and help resolve matters without the need of engaging a solicitor or taking your case back Court. However, should this approach be unsuccessful, the next step would be to contact a solicitor with a view to writing to the other party and reminding them of their obligation to comply with the Order and the legal ramifications if they continue to breach it.

A Child Arrangements Order has a “Warning Notice” attached to it which informs the parties about the consequences of failure to abide by the terms of the Order. From a legal standpoint, a breach of a Court Order is a serious affair as it constitutes a contempt of Court, and this may lead to sanctions being made against the non-compliant parent.

If correspondence from a solicitor does not achieve the desired effect and the other parent continues to act contrary to the terms of the Order, then you may need to consider applying to the Court for enforcement.

What Constitutes a Breach of an Order

When a Child Arrangements Order is already in place almost anything can amount to a breach including a lateness to the handover or a cancellation of contact due to an illness, or a prior work commitment. Whilst a one-off incident of this nature is unlikely to be enough for the Court to order a sanction against the other party, a series of minor breaches may have a profound impact on the welfare of the child and the Court will therefore take a closer look at the overall situation. It is therefore advisable to keep a record of all the instances and the frequency of the said breaches so that the Court can benefit from a full picture and is able to investigate the issues accordingly.

What the Court looks for in enforcement applications

The Court will determine the nature of the breach and look at the reasons behind the other parent’s non-compliance. The Judge will be interested in knowing as to whether there is a plausible explanation behind the other parent’s conduct or perhaps no valid justification at all. The Court will assess the effect of the breach on the child’s welfare and whether it would be in the child’s best interests for the order to be enforced. Every case is different, and in some circumstances, the Court may wish to obtain expert advice or a CAFCASS report or make a referral to social services to investigate matters in more detail before making a final determination.

How to make Enforcement application

An application to enforce a court order is made on a specific enforcement application form C79. There is also a Court fee payable of £232 unless you qualify for a fee remission. We would recommend that you seek legal advice on how to complete the form to ensure that your application is successful.

Enforcement and Sanctions

In deciding whether to enforce the Order, the Court must satisfy itself beyond reasonable doubt that such action is necessary and proportionate to the seriousness and frequency of the parent committing the breach and that the Enforcement Order is required to secure compliance with the Order. If the breach turns out to be minor or the parent in breach of the Order actively shows remorse and perhaps undertakes to the Court not to repeat the said misconduct, the Court is likely to consider that Enforcement Order is not necessary. Furthermore, if a parent in breach of the Order can show on balance of probabilities that they had a reasonable excuse for failing to comply with the order, then it an Enforcement Order will not be granted.

Whilst some parties may be referred to a separated parents information program (SPIP) or mediation to resolve their disputes, others could be ordered to pay a fine, undertake unpaid work or be committed to prison.  It may also be possible for one parent to seek a compensation for financial loss suffered by reason of the breach.

Who pays costs of enforcement proceedings

The standard rule on costs in children proceedings is that there should be no order for costs. This approach however does not apply to applications for enforcement orders meaning that the applicant party have the right to seek costs against the respondent party and the Court has a discretion to order the unsuccessful party to pay the reasonable legal costs of the other side.

If you are considering applying to the Court for enforcement of the existing Child Arrangements Order, we would highly recommend that you seek specialist assistance.


If you need advice on this topic, or any other matters concerning divorce or family law, please get in touch with our team at McAlister Family Law.


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