The new Children and Adoption Act 2006, which received Royal Assent last summer, makes changes to the way in which contact between divorced parents and their children will be governed.
Under the Act, when deciding on contact arrangements, the court is empowered to make a ‘direction’ requiring the person named to take part in an activity that promotes contact with the child concerned. Such activities could include, for example, counselling or anger management training. A contact activity direction cannot include requiring medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment however.
Contact activity directions cover the interim stage between the commencement of proceedings and the court’s disposal of them. A contact activity direction is made only on a parent of the child and can be made when the contact arrangements are disputed and the habitual residence is in England or Wales.
When such a direction is made, the person who wishes to have contact with the child must comply with it. It must specify both the activity and the person who will provide it. This means that the court must consider not only the suitability of the provider of the activity but also the information about the person being ordered to undertake the activity, to ensure the activity is suitable. Such a direction can be applied for by one of a number of people who have contact with the child, as well as by the child itself.
If the terms of the contact activity direction are breached, the court can make an ‘enforcement order’, which involves the imposition of an unpaid work order (‘community service’). This must be preceded by a warning notice and the court must be satisfied that the enforcement order is necessary to obtain compliance with the contact activity direction. The court must also be satisfied that the effect of the enforcement order is not out of proportion to the seriousness of the breach.
Where the breach of a contact activity direction has a financial implication, the court can order compensation to be paid if financial loss is suffered.
The aim of the changes, which are somewhat more complex and far-reaching than outlined above, is to protect the welfare of children when a couple divorce. It remains to be seen how effective this raft of new legislation will be, as there is no extra resource provision being made available to monitor compliance with contact activity directions.
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