When parents separate it is important the arrangements for the children are sorted out as quickly as possible. Many issues will need to be resolved such as where your child will live and how much time they will spend with each parent. It is best to talk these type of arrangements through with your ex partner to try and reach an agreement which is in the child’s best interest.
Sometimes, particularly when a separation is acrimonious, one parent may refuse to let the other parent see the child. This can be extremely distressing for a parent but also for children who may have been used to seeing their mother or father everyday. The Court will not permit a parent to stop contact unless there are significant concerns for a child’s safety and wellbeing. Infidelity or the impact of the relationship breakdown is not a reason to prevent contact. A child will benefit from having a positive relationship with both parents where possible and it is important steps are taken quickly to resolve issues to reduce anxiety for children and to protect their emotional wellbeing. If an agreement isn’t possible there are remedies through the Court such as applying for a Contact or Residence order.
A Contact Order is a Court Order confirming what contact a parent should have with their child. Often it will detail the days and times for contact as well as the venue. A contact order is in place until a child reaches 16.
A Residence Order is a Court Order confirming where a child will live until they reach 16. Often a Residence Order is twinned with a Contact Order outlining what contact the other parent should have. The Court can make a sole Residence Order where a child lives with one parent or a Shared Residence Order where a child lives between the separate homes of both parents.
If a parent has already secured a Contact Order, and the other parent (the resident parent) is failing to allow that parent to avail of contact and spend time with a child, this is a breach of a Court Order. The Resident parent will be in contempt of Court. If a parent breaches a Court Order, Contempt Proceedings can be brought before the Court to enforce the Contact Order and ensure both parents comply with the terms. The Court will deal with Contempt Proceedings very seriously unless the resident parent has strong cause to stop contact and is concerned for the child’s welfare during contact. Depending on where the Contact Order was made the Court has a range of powers when dealing with Contempt of Court, for example the Judge could consider imposing a fine or a custodial sentence on a parent for failure to comply with a Contact Order.
Arrangements for children do not have to be put in Court Orders and you can come to an arrangement between yourselves. It is better for parents to decide on a suitable arrangement that suits both of them and their child’s routine rather than the Court making a decision, as parents can have little control over the Court Order and the suitability of the arrangements.
At Edwards and Co our Family and Matrimonial Department has extensive experience in dealing with children’s issues pursuant to separation. If you are having problems with contact or residence and would like advice please do not hesitate to contact Carla Fraser.