Yesterday, I was speaking with a friend who has tried endlessly, and to no avail, to have contact with her father. It appears that despite his actions, she wishes to have a relationship with him simply because he is her dad. So, it got me thinking about contact orders. Working at the firm, I have seen many people requesting contact orders so that they can maintain a relationship with their child/children, after the breakdown of their relationship. However, after talking with my friend, I started thinking ‘if only she could have imposed a contact over her father’! This is (unfortunately for her), not possible, so today I thought I would tell you all about contact orders, namely, what they are and what they do.
The effect of a contact order: –
As well as dealing with whom the child should live, the court must also consider whether the child should have regular meetings with their other parent (the contact parent), or indeed with other relatives or family friends. The hope is that regular meetings will enable the child to continue his or her relationship with both parents, and both sides of the family. As it is often stated, ‘parenthood is for life’, and thus the fact that the parents have separated should not affect their relationship with the child.
However, it is sometimes the case that following a bitter separation, the resident parent may be deeply opposed to the child seeing the other parent. This is particularly so if the resident parent finds a new partner and wishes to form a new family. On the other hand, the contact parent will seek to do all that he/she can to retain contact with the child and make the most of the contact permitted. Furthermore, it becomes evident that contact applications are often very bitterly disputed.
I have already seen many cases like at Stowe Family Law. But should the law be able to force a parent to have contact with a child, a young child who may wish to see their parent but the parent does not wish to see them?
As it stands the law has not yet directly addressed the question of whether the non-residential parent can be required to have contact with the child. If the evidence is clear that the child would benefit from regular contact with the non-residential father, but the father does not wish to have contact, can be compelled? It appears not. Thorpe LJ in Re (A child) explicitly denied that a parent could be ordered to spend time with a child against the parent’s wishes.
I think that this is a sensible interpretation of the boundaries and definition of a contact order. After all, the Children Act 1989 states that the welfare of the child must be of paramount concern and it would is in all likelihood going to be counter-productive to compel a reluctant parent to see a child!
A contact order only provides that the resident parent will make the child/children available for contact, leaving the onus on the resident parent. A contact order, ordering a non-resident parent to see their child would thus, most likely, be impossible to enforce. So why prolong the suffering?
As in all cases involving children, the law must have make decisions depending on what is in the best interests of the child. Although my friend is an adult now, and thus does not fall within the ambit of the Children Act 1989, I would still question whether it would be in her best interests to see her father? I believe that a parent who clearly wishes to have no involvement in their child’s life, who is then forced to, may not be in the right mind to look after the child, making the contact detrimental and thus not in their best interest.
Just some food for thought as I bid you all farewell until next week!
Image by Photochiel