Family court orders are those that are put into place for the parenting and financial responsibilities of the children of a marriage. Both parents are expected, and legally required, to comply with family court orders. Family court orders do not allow parents to comply with only the directives they agree with or are willing to abide by. Therefore, refusing to conduct parenting responsibilities and financial obligations in accordance with a family court order can have significant consequences.
There are some circumstances where the Court might make an allowance for a parent who does not comply with their family court orders. These exceptions include:
- A genuine lack of understanding of their particular responsibilities as defined in the Order.
- A reasonable belief that defying one or more components of the Order was necessary to protect the health and well-being of the child or another person.
- The breach of the Order was limited in both time and scope necessary to protect the health and well-being of the child or another person.
Short of meeting one of these exceptions, a breach of a family court order will have serious consequences.
When a parent breaches a family court order, it is called a contravention. This means that the parent has taken an action that is contrary to the directives contained in their family court order. This type of action can take several forms, but the most common three are:
- Deliberately refusing to perform or comply with a particular action or responsibility as outlined in the Order.
- Taking an action that prevents someone else from fulfilling their obligations under the Order.
- Being unable to present a reasonable excuse for their actions that are not in compliance with the directives stated in the Order.
What options does the other parent have when a parent breaches a family court order? This is usually the first thought a non-breaching parent has. What can I do? It is always recommended that the first thing a represented parent does is inform their solicitor of the breach. The next action is to await the solicitor’s recommendations and proceed accordingly. In general, the recommendations will be as follows:
- Schedule a family dispute resolution to allow the parties to discuss the non-compliant actions and attempt to come to an agreement on how to proceed moving forward.
- Possibly agree to make a request to change the orders if this seems like a reasonable solution.
- If discussions prove fruitless or the situation is urgent, an application for contravention can be made to the Court. The application must be accompanied by an affidavit explaining the current circumstances and the non-compliant actions of the other party.
Filing an application for contravention will alert the Court to the alleged breach of the court order and bring the matter before a family court judge. The judge will then review the matter and take one of many options. Some consequences may include:
- Parent education classes.
- Providing an opportunity for the thwarted directive to be made up, either in time or financially.
- Requiring counseling and/or therapy pertinent to the breach.
- Financial penalties.
- Adjustment of the Order directives.
- Jail time – in particularly serious or egregious incidents.
While it is possible that a breach of the court order could be an isolated incident, it is always wise to review the situation with your solicitor. If it is possible to resolve the situation with a simple telephone communication from your solicitor to the other party, this might be a good option. But regardless of whether this is successful or not, the incident should be documented and addressed immediately.
In the event that you find yourself in need of assistance, please contact the law offices of Owen Hodge Lawyers. At Owen Hodge, we are always happy to assist clients in understanding the full ramifications of any and all of your legal needs. Please feel free to call us at your earliest convenience to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780.