Courts have adequate powers to enforce contact orders, study suggests

Children|Family|Family Law|January 7th 2014

The family courts have adequate powers to enforce child contact orders, a new study suggests.

In what is first full analysis of enforcement since 2006, researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Oxford analysed 215 enforcement applications from different regions, a nationally representative sample.

In their report, entitled Enforcing contact orders: problem-solving or punishment?, the authors note:

“For the last decade or more, policy-makers and father’s groups had expressed concern that contact orders are being flouted and that the courts are not acting robustly in response.”

Despite these frequently expressed concerns, however, the author insist that:

“Adequate punitive sanctions are in place, are mostly used when needed and can secure compliance.”

They report:

“Courts typically handled cases fairly speedily, with most cases getting into court quickly.”

Only “a minority” of cases experienced problems when parties involved refuse co-operate, the report declares, with both the resident and non-residents sometimes failing to co-operate with the court.

The courts are “sufficiently robust” in most cases, the researchers claim, and only a few cases involve implacably hostile parents. In fact, they say:

“There were as many examples of courts being too robust as being not robust enough.”

The Children and Adoption Act 2006 introduced a new sanction for parents who disobey contact orders – unpaid community service – thought to be less likely to harm the children involved than existing penalties such as imprisonment. The authors of the new report believe “assessment for unpaid work and suspended enforcement orders can work to secure compliance without having a negative impact on the child.”

However, “..if an enforcement order is deemed appropriate after thorough assessment, then sanctions should be pursued robustly rather than allowing cases to drift or result in further non-compliance.”

Parents with mental health issues and personality disorders lie behind some of the most difficult contact order enforcement cases, the report also claims.

“In these circumstances a therapeutic approach may well be more productive than a purely punitive approach but at present there is a dearth of appropriate services, particularly outside London.”

The research was funded by social policy charity the Nuffield Foundation.

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Comments(8)

  1. Luke says:

    If the researchers are right then the only conclusion one can draw is that Judges are deliberately not implementing the sanctions due to a systemic bias against non-resident parents – or just sheer incompetence by these Judges – I really don’t see how any other conclusion can be drawn from this.

  2. u6c00 says:

    “A fraction of those 10% seek enforcement of the court order. In 2011-12 there were fewer than 1,500 applications to enforce a contact order. To put that in context, 38,405 children were the subject of a contact application in England and Wales in 2011. ”
    ___________________________________________________

    Damn it I’ve been reading the report for 2 minutes and already I’ve found an abuse of statistics.

    1) Number of children involved in a contact application does not equal number of contact orders. It is therefore impossible to work out what proportion of contact ORDERS involve an application to enforce, or what proportion of CHILDREN named in a contact order are subsequently named in an enforcement application. One contact order can involve multiple children. This is basic logic.
    2) “38,405 children were the subject of a contact application…” So, they weren’t necessarily the subject of a contact order then, only a contact application which may or may not have been successful?
    3) Given the prevalence of shared residence orders in place of contact orders, and a research methodology which looked only at enforcement of contact orders (by looking at the C79 applications which aren’t used to enforce a SRO), it’s impossible to know how many orders come back before the courts isn’t it?

    This is not how you deal with statistics. This is how you abuse statistics for rhetorical and political purposes.

    Any credibility or respect which fathers groups might have given the report (admittedly, given the authors that would’ve been scant) is destroyed when you so blatantly misuse statistics in your introduction. It taints the rest of the report and undermines the research itself and instead of healing a rift using evidence only widens it.

  3. Tristan says:

    My first post didn’t make it through the censor so I’ll try again.

    Look at the source of the research, the organisation and the people involved, then draw your own conclusions. In my view, this is simply research to order, required to fit a pre-existing social policy stance that, amongst other things, thinks the Children Act is an act of kindness and requires no change.

  4. u6c00 says:

    I agree with you that the researchers and funding body are widely considered to push a set social policy agenda.

    Critique the report itself though. If you read it and spot errors, flaws and misrepresentation then call them out. Otherwise the criticism aimed at the authors is pointless.

    I know that in my field, statistics like those in my comment above would not have got through any peer review process.

  5. Luke says:

    If you read the whole piece it is continually pushing the idea that there is really no justification for complaint on contact orders – for instance what evidence do they have for this statement:

    “There were as many examples of courts being too robust as being not robust enough.”

    Maybe it’s there but I cannot see it, can somebody point me to the relevant paragraph ?

  6. Anonymous says:

    All this does is bring the legal people at Oxford and Exeter into serious disrepute. I have no idea who these moles are, and frankly could not care less, but they are just embarrassing. It’s not just a lack of rigor we are talking about here.

  7. Tristan says:

    99% of contact orders, of which ‘every other weekend’ is typical, are insufficient to meet the needs of most children in that they minimise the time a father has to devote himself to raising his child. They are the start point at which alienation will begin to set in, if it hasn’t already.

    There is no foundation in proper, peer-reviewed, child development research (i.e not pro-mother Nuffield-sponsored research) by which the average contact order can be judged adequate to meet the needs of the child for which it is intended.

  8. Tristan says:

    And if courts do possess adequate powers to enforce contact, why don’t they use them? You fight for years to get a sub-standard contact order and then you find the court turns its back on you by failing to enforce its own order.

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