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New contact order enforcement powers to come into force

05 Nov 2008, 13:04 by Rebecca Fitton-Brown

Labels: cafcass, children-act, contact, family-law

The long heralded changes to enforcement of section 8 orders under the Children Act 1989 come into force at the end of this month. Many groups, especially fathers' campaigning organisations, have long complained that court orders in children cases are easily flouted by recalcitrant parents, especially those with whom the child lives.

The new enforcement powers are as follows:

  • Activity requirements and conditions - As well as ordering contact, the court will have the power to order that a particular activity is undertaken during the period of contact. This could range from something as simple as a particular leisure activity, to something tailored to the parent and child, such as programmes designed to facilitate and encourage contact. The court may also make conditional contact orders, where the contact order is conditional on a party taking part in a particular activity, for example counselling.
  • Contact Monitoring - The court will be able to order that a CAFCASS officer monitor contact to report on how it goes. This is something which is sometimes done voluntarily by CAFCASS officers, but is resource-sensitive.
  • Compensation - the non-complying party can be ordered to pay compensation to another party who has suffered financial loss through the non-compliance. This is likely to take the form of petrol / travel costs and loss of earnings incurred through attending contact sessions where the child is not then made available.
  • Warning Notices - The existing practice is to place a penal notice on a contact order after it is breached for the first time; a further breach entailing committal proceedings. The new regime will see a warning notice attached to a contact order when it is first made, meaning the court's enforcement powers are available to it on the first breach.
  • Enforcement Orders - these provide a new quasi-criminal sanction for failure to comply with an order. If the court is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a part has failed to comply, without reasonable excuse, it may make an enforcement order on the application of a party. This requires the party to perform unpaid work in the same way as a community order imposed in criminal courts following a conviction. Compliance with the order is monitored by a CAFCASS officer, and a report made to the court.

 

The Act containing the changes can be found here, and the statutory instrument creating changes to the Family Procedure Rules together with the new forms can be found here. They all come into force on 25th November 2008.

 

Reaction to the new provisions has been mixed. A survey by the University of Kent found that less than half of family law professionals thought the new provisions would be sufficient to deter parties from breaching orders, although a majority agreed that the existing means of enforcement were also inadequate. The Ministry of Justice states that its consultation produced largely positive results. It also remains to be seen what effect the greater involvement of CAFCASS officers will have, given how woefully underfunded the service is at present.

Written by Rebecca Fitton-Brown, Barrister at New Walk Chambers, specialising in Family Law.

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