Family Court’s approach to enforcement of contact orders

Recent research by the Nuffield Foundation considers how Family Courts respond to applications to enforce a contact order following alleged non-compliance.

The research carried out by Liz Trinder, Alison Macleoad, Julia Pearce and Hilary Wood of Exeter University, with consultancy from Joan Hunt of Oxford University, is to be published in September 2013 and makes certain key findings:

  • That relatively few contact cases return to Court seeking enforcement
  • That whereas the general perception of enforcement cases is where implacably hostile mothers are deliberately flouting contact orders and the Court is failing to ensure compliance, reality shows that there are relatively few such implacably hostile cases and the situation is rather more complex
  • The main type of case occurs where parental conflict prevents the parties working with a contact order reliably, while a significant number of other cases concern safety issues. A further group of cases arise where older children themselves want to reduce or stop contact
  • That the type of case generally will determine the response and approach of the Court. For example a “co-parenting” approach in conflict cases, “protective” if there is risk of harm and “punitive” if dealing with an implacably hostile party
  • That there are seen to be a few cases where it could be questioned whether the Court could have been more robust in dealing with a non-compliant parent or the Court appears to minimize safety concerns. By comparison, there are seen to be a few cases where a punitive approach appeared to be inappropriate.

The report concludes that policy attention should focus on developing more effective measures to support safe contact across all types of enforcement cases, in particular high conflict cases where both parents need more assistance in working together to implement a contact order.

If you would like further information and advice, please contact our Family team at family@blasermills.co.uk.