Action And Access: Tackling Breaches In Child Arrangements Orders
Published on 19 June, 2020 | Katie Welton-Dillon
The last three months of lockdown have added tremendous pressures to the challenge of bringing up a child.
As I mentioned just days after the restrictions on working and travel were announced by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, there was some confusion about what they meant for parents who were no longer together (https://hallbrown.co.uk/coronavirus-and-childcare-some-helpful-clarification/).
In the weeks which have followed, we have been approached by men and women experiencing difficulties in maintaining the kind of stable, regular contact with their children which is so important in their development.
On occasions, resident parents have voiced concerns about the risk of children contracting and even transmitting Covid-19 as a reason for not allowing them to spend time with their non-resident fathers or mothers.
However, the issue of meeting the terms of Child Arrangement Orders has not only surfaced with the coronavirus pandemic.
The orders are, of course, put in place when relationships involving parents break down and determine how much time they will spend with their children.
Yet as I’ve been telling Gabriella Swerling, the Daily Telegraph’s Social Affairs Correspondent, official figures demonstrate that far too many individuals are not being taken to task for breaching such orders in recent years (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/06/16/thousands-parents-evade-punishment-stopping-former-partners/).
According to data published by the Ministry of Justice, the number of applications brought by parents who might have been denied time with their children has increased by almost 200 per cent over the last five years.
Even so, the number of so-called Enforcement Orders granted to ensure adherence to child arrangements which have either been agreed or imposed by courts have almost halved over the same period of time.
In my opinion, that’s a startling state of affairs and quite unfortunate too, given the potential for disagreements about how to raise a child impact on the relationship between parents and their sons or daughters.
I fully appreciate how some parents can have such differing views about what’s best for a child that mediation – the opportunity to sit down together with a trained practitioner in an effort to reach an amicable resolution – is not necessarily likely to work.
The fact that the wide range of sanctions – from community service orders to fines and even imprisonment – which courts can impose on those individuals who don’t adhere to Child Arrangement Orders are not imposed in all but a few dozen cases is a source of very real despair to those parents who miss out on time with their children.
As I pointed out to the Telegraph, we could do with guidance as to whether the existing penalties remain appropriate a decade after they were introduced or whether some new method is needed to correct the growing problem.
Without a forward-thinking strategy, there is the grave risk that children will not have the positive contribution of two parents in their lives.
That’s something which we should strive to avoid at all costs.