What is a Contact Order?

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    by Sarah Khan Bashir MBE

    Partner, Shire Solicitors, 7 Eldon Place, Bradford BD1 3AZ, 0800 772 0413 / 01274 727373   info@shiresolicitors.co.uk

    When a marriage breaks down it is not only a devastating time for the parties involved but also for the children of that family. Inevitably one parent leaves the home and the other is left to look after the children. In these circumstances the non resident parent wants to have contact with the children. Due to the breakdown of the relationship between the parents it is often hard for contact to take place and many parents deny contact to the non resident parent. The law is very firm in this regard. Every child has full right to know both parents and to enjoy contact with both parents providing it is safe to do. The starting point for any Contact order application is that contact should take place and therefore the parent opposing contact has to prove that it is unsafe to do so.

    In order to help the Courts decide on this issue they appoint a Cafcass officer who is independent of all the proceedings and will only look out for the best interests of the child. Even if the non resident parent has objections to contact taking place the Court will invariably order contact if it is in the best interest of the child and there are no safeguarding concerns. Contact can happen in various forms such as supervised contact, supported contact and if the Court is fully satisfied that there are no issues then contact will be unsupervised.

    This process can be long and drawn out but once contact has started then the courts will want to review it before granting a final order. The Final Order will detail the exact level of contact between the parent and child until the child is 16. This will include provisions for school holidays and how they are to be divided, Eid, birthdays and even provisions for taking the child away on holiday.

    However if a resident parent is afraid that the non resident parent may try to abduct the child or keep the child unlawfully which can sometimes happen with the breakdown of the relationship then the resident parent can apply for a Prohibited Steps Order (PSO). This is an application to the court preventing the unlawful removal of a child from the jurisdiction. An application is made to Court and they will determine if the claim made by the resident parent is valid to justify a PSO. This application can be made on an emergency basis and without the knowledge of the other parent. If when a relationship breaks down the resident parent may worry that the non resident parent may retain the child after a session of contact. In this situation they can apply for an Order that states that they child shall live with them. This is in effect a Residency Order. The Order will state that the child shall live with the resident parent and if the non resident parent retain the child beyond the contact session then the Police can be informed and the child shall be returned to the resident parent.

    The Courts try to not to interfere in the lives of parents and children. They maintain that the parents should work together in the best interest of the child. However this is not always possible. Mediation is another solution that can be tried but in most cases is not successful as invariably one parent is opposed to contact, rightly or wrongly.

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