Contact Order

Contact Order
Contact Order
Full Overview Of Contact Order

A contact order is a legal instrument used in family law, particularly in cases involving the arrangements for children following their parents’ separation or divorce. This document outlines and enforces the contact rights between a child and a non-residential parent or other significant individuals in the child’s life.

At DLS Solicitors, we understand the critical importance of these arrangements and the profound impact they can have on both the child and the involved parties. This overview aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of contact orders, their application, processes, and implications.

Definition and Purpose of Contact Orders

A contact order, as defined by the Children Act 1989, is a court order requiring the person with whom a child lives or is to live to allow the child to have contact with a person named in the order. The primary purpose of such an order is to ensure that children can maintain a significant relationship with both parents and other important individuals, even when living arrangements have changed due to separation or divorce.

The courts operate under the principle that it is generally in the child’s best interests to have contact with both parents. This principle is enshrined in Section 1 of the Children Act 1989, which mandates that the child’s welfare is paramount in all decisions regarding their upbringing. Contact orders thus seek to balance the child’s right to maintain relationships with the need to ensure their safety and well-being.

Types of Contact

Contact can take several forms, each tailored to suit the specific circumstances of the child and the family dynamics involved. The types of contact commonly stipulated in contact orders include:

  1. Direct Contact: This involves face-to-face meetings between the child and the non-residential parent. Direct contact can range from daytime visits to overnight stays, depending on what the court deems appropriate.
  2. Indirect Contact: In situations where direct contact is not feasible or appropriate, the court may order indirect contact. This includes communication through letters, emails, phone calls, or video calls.
  3. Supervised Contact: When there are concerns about the child’s safety or well-being, supervised contact may be ordered. This requires that contact sessions occur in the presence of a third party, who ensures the child’s safety during the visit.
  4. Supported Contact: Similar to supervised contact, but less intensive. This involves contact sessions at a contact centre, where staff are available to offer support and ensure a positive environment, but do not directly supervise the interactions.
  5. Interim Contact: Temporary contact arrangements put in place while the court proceedings are ongoing. This ensures that the child maintains some level of contact with the non-residential parent during the legal process.

The Process of Obtaining a Contact Order

Obtaining a contact order involves several steps, designed to ensure that the decision is in the child’s best interests. The process is as follows:

  1. Initial Considerations and Mediation: The applicant must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before applying for a contact order. Mediation is encouraged to help resolve disputes without court intervention. If mediation fails or is deemed inappropriate, the applicant can proceed to court.
  2. Application to the Court: The applicant files a C100 form with the Family Court, outlining the desired contact arrangements. The court fee must be paid, although exemptions may apply in certain circumstances.
  3. First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA): This initial hearing allows both parties to discuss the issues before a judge. If no agreement is reached, the court may refer the case back to mediation or proceed to a contested hearing.
  4. Welfare Report: If the case proceeds, the court may order a welfare report, typically prepared by a CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) officer. This report assesses the child’s needs and circumstances, providing recommendations to the court.
  5. Contested Hearing: A contested hearing will be scheduled if an agreement is still not reached. Both parties present their evidence and arguments, and the judge makes a decision based on the child’s best interests.
  6. Issuance of the Contact Order: Once the judge has reviewed all evidence and considered the welfare report, a contact order detailing the specific arrangements for contact is issued.

Factors Considered by the Court

The court considers various factors when determining the terms of a contact order. These factors are collectively known as the welfare checklist, which includes:

  1. The Child’s Wishes and Feelings: Depending on the child’s age and maturity, their views are considered, although they are not determinative.
  2. The child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs: The court assesses how the proposed contact arrangements will meet these needs.
  3. The Likely Effect of Any Change in Circumstances: Stability is crucial for a child’s development, and the court carefully considers the impact of any changes in their living arrangements.
  4. The child’s age, sex, background, and any other relevant characteristics: These personal factors influence what is in the child’s best interests.
  5. Any Harm the Child Has Suffered or Is at Risk of Suffering: Ensuring the child’s safety is paramount, and the court is cautious of any potential risks.
  6. The Capability of Each Parent: The court evaluates each parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs and provide a safe environment.

Enforcement and Variations of Contact Orders

Contact orders are legally binding, and failure to comply can result in enforcement action. If a parent breaches a contact order, the other parent can apply to the court for enforcement. The court has several powers to enforce contact orders, including:

  1. Variation of the Order: Adjusting the terms of the order to make it more workable.
  2. Community-Based Orders: Requiring the non-compliant parent to undertake unpaid work or attend parenting programmes.
  3. Fines: Imposing financial penalties.
  4. Compensation: Ordering the non-compliant parent to compensate the other for any losses incurred due to the breach.
  5. Transfer of Residence: In extreme cases, changing the child’s primary residence.

If circumstances change significantly, either parent can apply to vary the contact order. This requires demonstrating that the change is in the child’s best interests.

Challenges and Considerations

Navigating contact orders can be complex and emotionally charged. Some common challenges include:

  1. High Conflict Situations: When parents are highly conflicted, reaching an agreement can be difficult, and the child may be caught in the middle.
  2. Allegations of Abuse: Allegations of domestic violence or child abuse complicate the process, requiring thorough investigation and careful consideration of safety.
  3. Parental Alienation: Instances where one parent deliberately undermines the child’s relationship with the other parent present unique challenges.
  4. Relocation: If one parent wishes to relocate within the UK or abroad, this can significantly impact contact arrangements.

Given the complexities involved, having experienced legal representation is crucial. At DLS Solicitors, we provide expert guidance and support throughout the process. Our client-focused approach aims to achieve the best possible outcome for both the child and the parents. We work diligently to:

  1. Understand the Unique Circumstances: Every family is different, and we tailor our advice to suit our clients’ specific needs and circumstances.
  2. Advocate for the child’s best interests: Our primary concern is the child’s welfare, ensuring that their needs are met and their rights are protected.
  3. Navigate the Legal Process: From mediation to court hearings, we provide comprehensive support, ensuring our clients understand each step and are prepared for all eventualities.
  4. Resolve Disputes Amicably: Where possible, we strive to achieve amicable resolutions through negotiation and mediation, reducing our clients’ emotional and financial burdens.

Conclusion

Contact orders play a vital role in ensuring children can maintain meaningful relationships with both parents post-separation. The process of obtaining, enforcing, and varying contact orders can be complex, necessitating careful consideration of the child’s best interests.

At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to providing expert legal advice and support, helping our clients navigate these challenges with confidence and care. Our goal is to secure arrangements that promote the child’s well-being and support the family’s long-term stability and harmony.

Contact Order FAQ'S

A contact order is a court order issued by the Family Court that specifies the arrangements for a child to have contact with a parent or other family member with whom they do not live. This can include direct contact (face-to-face) or indirect contact (phone calls, letters, etc.).

Parents, grandparents, or any person with a significant connection to the child can apply for a contact order. However, non-parents usually need the court’s permission to apply.

The court’s primary consideration is the child’s welfare. Factors include the child’s wishes and feelings (depending on age and maturity), the child’s needs, the impact of the contact on the child, and any risk of harm to the child.

To apply for a contact order, you need to complete and submit Form C100 to the Family Court. You may also need to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before applying.

Yes, a contact order is legally binding. If the other parent does not comply, you can return to court to enforce the order. The court may impose penalties or vary the order to ensure compliance.

Yes, a contact order can be varied or discharged if circumstances change. Either party can apply to the court to change the order. The court will consider the child’s best interests before making any changes.

If there are concerns about the child’s safety, the court may order supervised contact or specify conditions to ensure the child’s safety. The court’s priority is always the child’s welfare.

A Contact Order typically lasts until the child turns 16, unless the court specifies a different duration or discharges the order earlier.

Under the Children and Families Act 2014, a child arrangements order replaced contact orders and residence orders. It specifies who the child lives with, spends time with, and has contact with. Existing contact orders remain valid but are treated as child arrangements orders.

Yes, grandparents can apply for a Contact Order, but they usually need the court’s permission to do so. The court will consider the grandparent’s relationship with the child and the child’s best interests.

Disclaimer

This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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