Contact orders in respect of children

What is a contact order? 

  • A contact order under the Children Act 1989 imposes a legal obligation upon the person with whom the child lives (a.k.a. the resident parent) to let the child in question have contact with the person specified in the order. There is nothing in the order imposing on the named person an obligation to exercise his/her right to contact. However, a set of provisions under the Family Law Act 1986 allow the courts to intervene if the person refuses to return the child to the resident parent. 

  • On the other hand, where the resident parent refuses to comply with the order and does not permit the contact to take place without reasonable grounds, this may amount to contempt of court, which is punishable with a fine or in extreme cases imprisonment. The courts have made it clear that imprisonment is an extreme last resort measure, which is only to be used in exceptional cases.

When can an order be made?

  • In any family proceedings whenever a question arises in respect of the welfare of any child, the court has the power to make contact or residence orders in respect of that child on applications by a relevant person.  On the other hand, courts can make such orders on their own initiative.

Who can apply for a contact order?

  • Different provisions exist for application procedure depending on the person making the application and his/her relationship with the child. Certain persons may apply for contact order as of right. Those include parents, guardians or special guardians or other persons who have parental responsibility.

  • Further, specifically for contact and residence orders without the leave of court can be applied by any party to a marriage or civil partnership where the child is considered a child of the family or by any person with whom the child has been living for a period of at least three years.

  • In addition, other persons can apply if they have the consent of the person in whose favour a residence order has been made or the consent of the local authority where the relevant child is in care.

  • On the other hand, other people, even if they are relatives without parental responsibility, would require firstly applying for leave of the court and if such is granted file an application for a contact order.
  • The court may grant the application for leave on paper or direct that a date is fixed for a hearing to take place. Order can be made without notice or by consent, on written evidence or after an oral hearing and in favour of any person in accordance with the circumstances as detailed above.

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For more information on:

  • What are the types of contact? 
  • What is the duration of contact orders?