Rainscourt Family Law Solicitors

Contact disputes and court orders

In my earlier post “What is shared residence?” I looked at how residence disputes focus on whether a child should reside with one parent, and spend time with the other parent, or reside with both parents.  It is not the case that when judgment is given in these cases, that all aspects of the dispute will have been terminally resolved.  Both parents may consider that if they have litigated a residence and contact case to final hearing that their emotional and financial reserves are depleted such that further litigation would be infeasible, but co-parenting is a task spanning two decades, and issues will evolve and arise over that time.  Alternatively, it may be that a parent seeks to bring the issue back to court within a short time frame, due to issues that they have with the initial order.  Cases involving contact disputes may therefore come back to court for further consideration, and be labelled “intractable” if they become a regular feature in the court list. Of course, any contact dispute which ends in court is by its very nature intractable or difficult to solve, but extended contact disputes are often the most problematic.

Alan Borning wrote that “the most intractable problem in constructing complex software is specifying what it should do; what if an event is not anticipated?”   This is equally applicable to constructing court orders:  it is not possible to anticipate every event that will take place in the child’s life upon which the parents will need to cooperate when drafting that order.  As well as having to deal with those loopholes, the order will be stress tested whenever life events alter the original set of circumstances.  This issue is magnified in any “intractable” contact dispute.

The recent case of  Re G* demonstrates how a contact dispute can escalate once that initial court order has been made.  Mum and Dad asked the court to make an for contact in Dad’s favour in August 2009.  These terms were agreed in a consent order, not imposed on them by a judge.   The father then chose to bring the matter back to court in October 2009 to seek to vary the consent order as he had lost his job and could not pay for nursery fees.  The final determination of that application took place in 2012.  The first judge stated that  the application came after “a compendious order that gave the father everything he wanted bar calling it a shared residence order. In the three years since his application the father has gone out of his way to make spurious allegations which the court and others have had to investigate and he has abused the court process by using it as a vehicle to make the mother feel insecure and vulnerable.” The consequence of the father’s conduct during those three years was that the court ordered no direct contact with the children, a bar on further applications for 5 years, and a costs order.

*G (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1017

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