What Happens If A Parent Breaches The Consent Order?

When a court issues an order, whether or not this is imposed or made by consent between the parties, it is legally binding and must therefore be followed. Unfortunately, there are cases where one parent disregards or breaches a court order, which may cause potential harm to the child, or at the very least, cause frustration to the parent with care. This article discusses the consequences of breaching a consent order and the legal recourse available.


What are the consequences of breaching a court order?

When a parent breaches a consent order, the following may happen:

  • The court may find them in contempt of court which can, depending on the severity of the breach, lead to fines, community service from between 40 and 200 hours, or even a term of imprisonment.
  • The court may decide to vary the existing order if it better protects the interests of the child. It may also make an enforcement order or suspended enforcement order.
  • Refer both parents to a separated parents information programme or family mediation.
  • Order the breaching parent to provide compensatory or additional time to make up for missed or denied time with the child.
  • Sometimes, the breaching parent may be required to reimburse the other party’s legal costs and solicitors fees which have been incurred because of the breach.
  • If one parent consistently undermines the relationship between the child and the other parent, the court may take parental alienation into consideration when making a decision, although this is rare.

If you find yourself dealing with breach of a court order, it is vital that you take legal advice as to the best course of action. In order to help your case, you should retain detailed records of the breaches, including dates and times, together with any supporting evidence, such as emails, text messages, or any witnesses.

Mediation or alternative dispute resolution may resolve the matter. But if these attempts fail, you can apply to the court to enforce the existing order.

What would be considered a valid breach of a court order?

If you are faced with a genuine emergency situation, it could be appropriate to think about not complying with the order and then, if the issue persists, consider making an application to court. Some examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Not leaving a child at home with the parent with care if they are under the influence of alcohol or other illicit substance such that a child would be unsafe. If the issue continues, consider applying for a child arrangements order or variation.
  • Not sending a child on a contact visit if the parent is drunk and plans to drive with the child in the car.
  • On a contact visit, the parent is in the company of someone the court has ordered the child should not come into contact with, such as a relative or friend of the non-resident parent.

Whether the circumstances can be considered a genuine emergency needs to be assessed carefully. A parent having had one drink, for example, does not render them incapable of looking after a child or  of driving a car, so it is generally a question of degree. In this situation, you may want to take legal advice and monitor things over several weeks before applying to court.

If you don’t comply with a court order in an emergency, it is important to record why and think about whether it is necessary to urgently apply to change the court order.  If possible, take legal advice as to whether a situation constitutes an emergency and whether it is so concerning that the court order should not be complied with. Generally, it is better to make an urgent court application to change or vary the order than breach it. However, if a breach is relatively minor, take legal advice before launching enforcement proceedings.

What should I do if my ex breaches the child arrangements order?

If your ex breaches a child arrangements order, made by consent or otherwise, speak to a solicitor as to your best options. If the breach is not considered an emergency, keep a record or diary of the breaches. For example, if your ex is half an hour late for contact as a one-off, then, although this is a technical breach, it should be viewed as an isolated incident rather than persistent. If the child is distressed by a late arrival or a no-show, then make a note of this in a contact diary or on your phone. If your child is being taken into school late after an overnight stay, then you would expect the school to keep an accurate record which you can call upon to support your case if necessary.

If you do nothing about persistent but minor breaches, then the other parent may assume that you or the child are unconcerned, which may lead to the status quo developing such that your ex is always 30 minutes late for collection and return. You may be able to resolve these issues through a solicitor or family mediation, but continued and annoying breaches may require court intervention.


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