Enforcement of contact orders on divorce, London solicitors look at research

19th January 2015 by

Healys family lawyers provide legal representation for all matters arising out of relationship breakdown – from financial settlements on divorce to arrangements for children.

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Contact orders and enforcement

Whether you are seeking a divorce in London, Brighton or anywhere else in the UK, one of the most difficult aspects of a split is the effect it has on children.

In 2013 the University of Exeter published important research which looked at the one particular aspect of divorce and its effects on the family.

Up until the report’s publication, there had been little research into how effective punitive enforcement of contact orders had been and policy-makers had no empirical data to inform them on the reasoning behind action taken in the family courts.

The research was based on case file analysis of 215 enforcement applications from across the UK, predominantly made in March and April 2012.

The overall conclusion of the findings was that the public perception of family court cases involving enforcement of contact orders was inaccurate. It found that whilst the perception was that courts were unable or unwilling to take action against mothers who flout contact orders, the number of “implacably hostile mothers” was actually very small.

The analysis of data showed that most enforcement cases represented in the UK sample did not typically around one implacably hostile parent, but more likely the cases reflected conflict between troubled sets of parents.

Further, the research found that family courts do not automatically take a punitive stance at the outset of enforcement proceedings. Instead, the approach is one of problem-solving rather than that of adjudication and sanctioning.

Although few sample cases examined in the study “hinged exclusively on the unreasonable and sustained hostility of the resident parent” – where the resident parent was systematically blocking contact (implacable hostility) – it was found that, in the majority of circumstances, family courts focused on attempting to facilitate co-parenting.

However, on occasion, case processing toward settlement was found to have been hasty and led to courts not addressing some of the underlying issues which had driven the original dispute. And, worryingly, in certain cases involving emotional abuse, “risk was inadequately assessed and/or managed”.

Several recommendations for review of policy and practice were made by authors of the research, including the need for a triage system to assess enforcement cases, plus the mandatory use of the Cafcass Schedule 2 safeguarding report as a source of information relevant to each enforcement case.

The research paper, entitled Enforcing contact orders: problem-solving or punishment, can be accessed by clicking here.