UK Family Law Reform

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Enforcement of contact orders in UK

Prior to 1989 there had been a number of attempts by magistrates to fine or imprison parents who obstructed contact orders, but they were all overturned by the Court of Appeal.


The breakthrough came in 1989 when the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling of Judge Appleby who had imprisoned Beverley Cox for being 'bloody minded' in her obstruction of access - C v C [1990] 1 FLR 462-9; [1990] Fam Law p 220-1; [1990] Fam Law p 235.

Recent events

In August 1995 at Derby County Court, Judge Orrell jailed a mother for breach of a contact order. She was only released when she admitted her error. Contact has worked OK since - Z v Z [1996] Fam Law p 255.

On 11 October 1996 at the Court of Appeal, Ward LJ upheld committal of a mother for breach of a contact order. The mother, who was opposed to contact, was ordered to attend a contact centre and was given six week sentence suspended for six months. She flouted the order and was committed to prison. The Court of Appeal upheld the ruling, saying:

- The welfare of the child is a material consideration, but not the paramount consideration
- There was a limit to the tolerance of the court and the Judge had exercised his discretion properly
A v N (Committal: Refusal of Contact) 11 October 1996 - [1997] Fam Law p 145-6. Solicitor Sarah Harman (letter to Family Law published Jan 1997).

Judge Peter Smith (at [1997] Fam Law p 138) commenting on A v N speaks of a dramatic increase in applications by fathers seeking to enforce contact orders. He feels that the law and prevailing culture have changed and that contact orders are now being enforced. He says that although committal is very much a weapon of the last resort, it must be in the court's armoury.

Contact Enforcement - [1997] Fam Law p134

At a seminar on 'Enforcing Contact' held in Taunton in November 1996, Dr Martin Gay (a child and adolescent psychiatrist) addressed a group of CWOs, GALs and lawyers.

It is reported that there was overall agreement that there was little mileage in the two main sanctions for defying contact orders - committal or change of residence. Dr Gay said there were no easy answer and certainly no short term solution. Judge Darwall-Smith said it was important to always keep the door open and adopt a softly softly approach to win recalcitrant parents round and move the case forward.

It seems to me that they haven't understood the problem!

Recent articles:

Contact implacably opposed.. Stevens, Robert; Justice of the Peace, (1993) 157 (41) 9 Oct, p 648-51. Contact opposed-a recurring dilemma: part 2.. Stevens, Robert; Justice of the Peace & Local Government Law, (1994) 158 (29) 16 Jul, p 463-5; (1994) 158 (30) 23 Jul, p 481-3
Contact disputes (comment). Sealey, Alan; Family Law, (1994) p 601
Contact: a compendium.. Smith, Victor; Justice of the Peace & Local Government Law, (1995) 159 (10) 11 Mar, p 159-60. ; (1995) 159 (11) 18 Mar, p 173-5. ; (1995) 159 (12) 25 Mar, p 188-9.
Contact: conflict to concord - an update on the law with reflections on resolving conflict. Stevens, Robert; Justice of the Peace & Local Government Law, (1996) 160 ( ) 10 Aug, p 599-601
Contact and the obdurate parent. Ingham, Terence; Family Law, (1996) p 615-7
Contact enforcement. Ferguson, Christopher; Family Law, [1997] p 134
Contact - losing interest. Gerlis, Stephen; Family Law, [1997] p 50-1
Enforcing orders relating to children. Lowe, Nigel; Journal of Child law, [1992] p 26-9
Implacable hostility - seeing a breakthrough. Conway, Helen L; Family Law, [1997] p 109-111
Implacable hostility, contact and the limits of the law. Jolly, Simon; Child and Family Law Quarterly, [1995] 7 (4) p 228-35

Recent cases:

Re M (A Minor) (Contact: Conditions) [1994] 1 FLR 272
Re W (a Minor) (Contact) [1994] 2 FLR 441
Re P (Contact) [1996] Fam Law p 532-3. Psychiatrist claimed that contact would seriously harm mother's physical and mental health. Judge plainly wrong not to order contact.
Re O (Contact - imposition of conditions) [1995] 2 FLR 124. Mother ordered to send photos, medical reports and school reports.
A v N (Committal: Refusal of Contact) 11 October 1996 - [1997] Fam Law p 145-6.
(see above)
Z v Z - [1996] Fam Law p 255. Short jail sentence helped mother to understand the need to comply with contact order.

By David Cannon

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