Options if your former partner is not complying with a child arrangement order

Posted 15th February 2024

Facing a breach of a child arrangement order (CAO) after parental separation can be distressing. This article guides on handling non-compliance, from direct communication to court enforcement, and explores the financial implications in such scenarios, with expert legal advice.

A child arrangement order (sometimes referred to as a CAO) is a court order which stipulates the contact arrangements for a child following parental separation. This type of court order is normally only needed when parents cannot reach agreement between themselves on what is best for their child.

‘Breach of a child arrangement order can cause distress for a parent, but also results instability for children. At times it can even mean children are not permitted to see one of their parents, so it is important to understand your options when a breach occurs,’ says Connor Williams, a Litigation Executive in the family team with Borneo Martell Turner Coulston.

What is a breach?

A breach is anything that is done which is not in compliance with the terms of the child arrangement order. The court must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that a breach has occurred, and courts tend only to intervene when breaches are substantial and deliberate.

If a parent repeatedly breaches the order, even if they are small breaches, or if they simply refuse to comply with the terms, then the court has powers to enforce compliance with an order.
Often a parent has to make an application for enforcement when the other parent outright refuses to allow the other parent to see the child, without any valid justification.

What are the options if your former partner breaches a CAO?

When a breach occurs, there are several possible actions you may take as follows:

If possible, it is best to speak to the other parent first about why the breach occurred. This may be sufficient to reassure you it was a one-off event, or it may give you the opportunity to discuss how the breach could be avoided in the future. If direct communication is proving difficult, a mediator may be able to assist in opening the lines of communication.

If direct communication is not suitable in your circumstances, then sending a solicitor’s letter to your former partner which sets out your concerns may be enough to ensure no further breaches occur.

If resolution is still not possible then you can refer the breach back to court. You can do this to either seek enforcement of the existing order, or you may wish to seek some alternative order, such as a prohibited steps order preventing the other parent from taking a particular action with your child.

The best route will depend on your circumstances, and the reason for the breach. One of our expert family law team can advise you on the most appropriate route for you.

Who will pay?

During enforcement proceedings, the court has the discretion to order compensation against the breaching parent in your favour if you are out of pocket as a result of the breach. The court has the power to order legal costs against one parent if the court is satisfied that it is fair and reasonable to do so. In determining this, the court will consider the facts of the case and the nature of the breach. One of our family law team can guide you on the likely costs of your case, and the likelihood of securing an order for costs against your former partner.

How can we help?

One of our family law experts will be able to advise you on the options available to you in respect of any breach of a child arrangement order. We can weigh up the routes available to you, and help you obtain the right legal advice to best meet you and your child’s needs.

For further information, please contact Connor Williams in the family law team on: 01604 622101 or email connor.williams@bmtclaw.co.uk

Borneo Martell Turner Coulston has offices in both Northampton and Kettering.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.