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What happens when a parent breaks a court order?

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What happens when a parent breaks a court order? When parents cannot decide arrangements for their children once they have separated the court can issue a child arrangements order to clarify a child’s living arrangements. 

This order is legally binding, and if a parent breaches it they will be in contempt of court which could mean fines, enforcement orders and even imprisonment (although this is extremely rare).

If this is happening to you, what legal options do you have? Rachel Fisher from Stowe Family Law in Bristol joins us with advice on what happens when a parent breaks/breaches a court order?

What can I do if my partner breaks or breaches a court order? 

If you are experiencing difficulties with a child arrangements order, including minor or major breaches, it is advisable to keep a diary of these. This means you will have a clear picture of the difficulties you have faced.

Then I would advise my client to try and discuss the breach (s) with the other parent in the hope that they can reach an agreement without having to return to court. The court process can be stressful, timely and expensive. 

Another option is to use mediation as a neutral forum with a third-party to try and resolve the disagreements. 

However, in some cases, it is not possible to discuss or agree on arrangements and therefore, the matters must be returned to the court to enforce the original order.

How do you enforce a court order?

An application for enforcement is made on a Form C79. Enforcement proceedings must be dealt with without delay and if possible, listed before the judge that dealt with matters previously. A hearing will be listed within 20 working days of the application been issued. 

What will the court consider when deciding to enforce an order? 

Once the court receives an application to enforce a child arrangements order, they will consider the following: 

  • Whether the facts for the alleged non-compliance are agreed or whether it is necessary to conduct a hearing to establish them

  • The reasons for any non-compliance

  • The wishes and feelings of the child

  • Whether any advice is required from Cafcass on the appropriate way forward 

  • Assess and manage any risks of making further or other child arrangements orders

  • Whether a separated parents information programme or referral for dispute resolution is appropriate

  • Whether an enforcement order may be appropriate and

  • The welfare checklist

What are the penalties for a breaching a court order? 

At the top of all child arrangements order, there is a warning notice that sets out the consequences to both parties about what will happen if they do not comply with the order.

There are several powers available to the court when considering an application to enforce and these are as follows:

  • Referral of both parents to a separated parents information programme or mediation

  • Unpaid work requirement of between 40 and 200 hours where the court is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that one party has failed to comply with a provision of the order

  • Committal to prison (in very rare/serious cases)

  • Changing which party the child or children live with (in very extreme/serious cases)/variation of the child arrangements order to include a more defined order

  • A fine

  • An order for compensation for financial loss

  • A contact enforcement order or suspended enforcement order

Can you get a court order changed?

If circumstances change once a child arrangements order has been made, then it might be necessary to ask the court to vary the order if an agreement cannot be reached between the parents. 

You will need to complete a C100 application form and explain why you are asking the court to vary the current child arrangements order. 

The court will only vary a child arrangements order if they consider it to be in the best interests of the child to do so.

Can court orders be overturned?

It is possible to appeal decisions made by the family court, and I would advise anyone considering this to take legal advice on their individual circumstances.

What can I do if I think my child is at risk? 

If you consider that your child is at risk, then you should seek urgent legal advice on the steps you can take to safeguard your child. 

Depending on your circumstances, it may be necessary to make an urgent application to the court.

Get in touch 

If you would like any advice on what happens when a parent breaks a court order please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist children lawyers here. 

Rachel is based at the Stowe Family Law office in Bristol. She joined the firm in February 2018. She represents clients in divorce and financial remedy proceedings. She has extensive experience of working with unmarried clients and understands the issues that cohabitants face.

Get in touch


  1. JamesB says:

    It may have changed but in my not inconsiderable experience financial orders are enforceable and contact orders are not.

  2. Sean Edgar says:

    My ex has broken court order and is being told contempt of court, her partner is currently helping her breach orders. Can he be held responsible as well? He is worse than her

  3. Kelsie Homer says:

    Am i able to dismiss a parenting order for sole custody that has meen put against me

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      I have passed your question on to our client care team who may be able to help you. Kind regards

  4. Tracy Martin says:

    I have a court order in place stating any contact above the court order has to be arranged between parents.
    Today I found out my ex was collecting my son from school as he rang our son, to remind him, and my son asked for his pe kit for tomorrow. I was not aware of anything. If my son had not returned home I would have though he was missing. Can I do anything? My son has gone to his dads as I did not want to upset him.

  5. Miss Doherty says:

    I can no longer afford to live in England due to financial strain. I would like to move back home to scotland. Where my family live and my children have a large base of family. My home has been condemned by the council. I have a court order in place with my older children’s father the relationship between us both is not on good terms. I also have a younger child with my partner who has recently passed away and without his financial help to pay lawyers fees and other bills we will be living on the line. How do I have my case heard by a judge. If I stay here I will end up homeless or in bad accommodation and my ex will take my children. Please any advice

  6. Lauren says:

    Can I breach a court order in order to safeguard my son

  7. Delhi International School says:

    Hello there, Thank you for sharing this great informative article with us. Whenever parents are ending up in court, children are the ones who suffer most. By the way, it is a very helpful article.


  8. John says:

    I got a court order against the other parent a while back because of circumstances I had a break the order.

    I wasn’t wondering if I am accountable by law because the court order states that the other parent is the recipient of the court order?

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Thanks for your query which I have passed on to our Client Care Team to respond. Kind regards

  9. Laura says:

    We currently have a court order which states my partner is main carer for his daughters and will have them 4 days a week. The eldest daughter, after some teenage head butting between her and dad, has decided she wants to live with mum. As she is 16 next month we know this is a bit of a lost battle but the younger daughter, age 11, is going along for the ride. After 8 weeks of this, Mum isn’t encouraging contact and after many attempts to talk to her (which she has been very dismissive of) we have managed to arrange plans with the younger daughter and have been having weekly daytime contact but want to get back to the original order. Younger daughter says she is happy to do this when with us but as soon as she’s been with mum again arrangements change.
    With communication being poor and even ignored, what can we do to regain the contact stated in the court order?

    Much appreciated

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Hi. Thanks for your query which I have passed on to our Client Care Team to respond. Kind regards

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