Court enforcement of child contact orders: evidence review

Review of the published literature on the enforcement of child contacts in international jurisdictions.

1. Summary of Key Points

  • Across jurisdictions, relative to all cases involving child contact orders, a low number of cases return to family court for the purpose of enforcement of child contact orders. The research suggests that the cases that do return to court tend to involve high conflict/intractable disputes.
  • In a number of international jurisdictions, children's views are taken into account in contact and enforcement cases where it is deemed appropriate. Some literature suggests alternative approaches from professionals are required to ensure children's views are heard and that they are kept safe from harm.
  • The majority of courts across international jurisdictions are empowered to impose a variety of different interventions and sanctions in response to breach of contact orders, however in practice courts defer to a limited range of options, depending on the reasons behind the breach of order. These options can be categorised as taking either a problem-solving or a punitive approach.
  • Problem-solving responses to breaches of child contact orders can involve parenting support, amendment of the existing order (referred to as settlement), protective measures, and/or child-led approaches, whereby the views of the child are considered in judicial decision-making.
  • Problem-solving interventions are used in the majority of child contact enforcement cases across international jurisdictions.
  • Punitive responses to breaches of child contact order can involve financial penalties, community service, and/or imprisonment.
  • Punitive responses are less common in enforcement of child contact order cases. Imprisonment is used in a very small minority of cases in Scotland and international jurisdictions.
  • None of the jurisdictions reviewed had a specific offence for non-compliance with a contact order. Rather, courts rely on existing legislation that allows enforcement of all court orders, related to child contact and other judicial provisions.
  • The evidence base on enforcement of child contact orders within Scotland, the UK and in other jurisdictions is limited.



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