Breaching a Child Custody Order
Following the breakdown of a relationship, court orders are often put in place to ensure that a parent meets certain obligations to their children. The process of agreeing the terms can be challenging, but once agreed they are legally binding, and to fail to comply with them would put you in contempt of court, which carries serious penalties, which potentially include fines or even a custodial sentence. If you have breached a child custody order, or you have been given notice that your partner intends to take action against you for breaking the terms of a court order, you will need to take expert legal advice as soon as possible.
At Clifford Johnston & Co, we have many years of experience of working with clients facing contempt of court charges, and we are well placed to help you. Speak to us today for an initial consultation – one of our experts will talk through your case and can help to establish an appropriate course of action.
What is a child custody order?
When separating parents cannot agree on how arrangements should be made relating to their children, the court can issue an order setting out any arrangements and the responsibilities of both parents. A child arrangements order has replaced contact and residence orders, which were used to decide where a child should live and the rights to contact for the non-resident parent.
They may also issue a specific issue or prohibited steps order, which can relate to where the child lives, is educated, and may prohibit certain actions, such as changing the child’s surname, taking them out of the country, or undergoing medical treatment. Orders set out by the court in relation to children usually last until the child is 16 (or in exception circumstances, 18), and are legally binding.
If you breach any of the terms, you are in contempt of court which could mean having to pay a fine, face further enforcement orders and you can potentially even be sent to prison.
What will happen if I breach a custody order?
If you breach the terms of your custody order, your ex-partner may choose to take legal action to enforce those terms. Depending on the circumstances, they may attempt to resolve the issues with you, either informally or formally with the help of a mediator.
However, they may choose to take you to court in order to enforce the order. The court will then consider a number of factors, including:
- whether the breach has occurred, and whether it is necessary to hold a hearing to establish the facts
- the reasons for the breach
- whether there are any risks of making further orders
- whether an enforcement order may be appropriate
- whether you and your ex-partner would benefit from a separated parents information programme, or if dispute resolution could be an option.
What are the penalties?
There is a warning notice on court orders that sets out the possible consequences of not complying with the order. Where you can be shown to have breached a court order, the court can:
- impose an order for compensation, and/or a fine
- seize assets
- make an enforcement order, or a suspended enforcement order
- require you to undertake between 40 and 200 hours of unpaid work
- potentially vary or change the order (for example if one parent is refusing to allow the other to have contact with their child, the court may intervene and may even change where the child lives)
- send you to prison – although this is not usually the case unless the breach is repeated or serious.
We would always recommend that you take legal advice in these circumstances, and if at all possible, before any breach occurs.
Is there any defence for breaching a child custody order?
No two cases are the same, and it’s important that a breach of contact order is assessed by a skilled legal professional. There may be some circumstances that make it difficult to adhere to the terms of the order, and these should be given careful consideration. For example, ill health, or a change in your financial circumstances may make it difficult, or impossible to fully meet the terms as specified. The court will look at any mitigating factors when deciding how to proceed – it may be that the original order needs to be revisited.
Is it possible to get a court order changed or overturned?
If you find that your circumstances change, and that you have difficulty complying with the original child arrangements order, you may be able to ask the court to vary the order – but they will only do this if they consider it to be in the child’s best interests. If you feel that a court order needs to be revisited or overturned, it may be possible to appeal, set aside, or to obtain a stay of an order under certain circumstances. Time limits apply, however, so if this is something that you are considering prompt advice is key.
Why choose Clifford Johnston & Co?
With over 20 years’ experience of supporting clients throughout England and Wales, the contempt of court specialists at Clifford Johnston & Co are here to help you to face the challenges ahead of you. We will use all of our skills and expertise to help you to identify the best way to handle your specific issue; we will always seek resolution avoiding court wherever possible, but if this is not possible, we can build your defence and will represent you in court, working hard to get you the most favourable outcome available.
We’re based in Manchester, but wherever you are in the United Kingdom, if you are charged with breaching your child custody order, we can help. Call us today for a free initial consultation and see why so many of our clients recommend us so highly.
Our friendly team will deal with your enquiry sensitively and with understanding so contact us today for helpful and supportive advice.
With offices in Stockport (Heaton Moor) & Manchester (Burnage), our expert contempt of court solicitors are easily accessible. We represent clients not only locally throughout Stockport and Cheshire, Lancashire & Manchester but also across the United Kingdom. We regularly act for clients from across the North West and Cheshire including Altrincham, Hale, Alderley Edge, Wilmslow and Knutsford.
You can count on us to help and guide you whatever your challenge or circumstance.