Contact orders require the person that the child lives with to allow the child to visit or stay with the person named in the contact order. Contact ranges from allowing the child to stay with the parent with the contact order, through to letter correspondence. Contact orders can be made in favour of more distant relatives too.
There is a presumption in favour of a contact order for the non-resident parent. However, the child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration, and an order will not be granted in the non-resident’s parent’s favour if the court thinks that contact would damage the child. The Court will make an order according to what it considers is in the child's best interests and will have regard to the welfare checklist.
One of the main problems with contact orders is that they can be difficult to enforce if the parent with day-to-day care is determined that contact will not occur. The court does have powers to enforce the contact order in such cases. They could penalise in costs against the day-to-day carer, they could make a residence order in favour of the non-resident parent. The Children and Adoption Act 2006 gave the court additional powers to deal with breach of contact orders. These include:
Warning notices – warning of the consequences of failing to comply with the contact order, and these are attached to the contact orders themselves. Non-compliance may result in the individual being held in contempt of court and imprisoned or fined and/or requiring them to undertake unpaid work, or financial compensation.
Enforcement orders – if the court is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that that a contact order hasn’t been complied with then it could make an enforcement order imposing an unpaid work requirement of up to 200 hours. The court will only make this order if it feels it is necessary, and if it is proportionate to the seriousness of the breach of the contact order./li>
Compensation for financial loss – if a contact order has been breached without reasonable excuse and the other party has suffered a financial loss as a result of the breach, then the court could order that compensation needs to be paid.
All of these need to be considered in light of the child’s welfare, which is the court’s paramount consideration.