Liz Trinder, Alison Macleod, Julia Pearce, HilaryWoodward and Joan Hunt
There are long-standing concerns that courts fail to enforce their own orders in child contact cases following parental separation. Part of the problem has been that the available sanctions - fines, imprisonment or change of the child's residence - may be impractical or contrary to the child's welfare. The Children and Adoption Act 2006 sought to address this by introducing a new sanction of unpaid work (community service) for a defaulting parent. This new sanction has been rarely used. The Coalition government is now considering other policy options. To date, however, there has been no research on enforcement to inform policy-makers about the nature of the cases or the approach of the family courts. This article summarises findings from the first ever empirical study of enforcement in England based on analysis of 215 enforcement cases. It finds that most enforcement cases are about mutual conflict, risk and child refusal of contact rather than implacable hostility of the resident parent. The courts generally take an appropriately problem-solving rather than a punitive approach to these cases. There is no evidence that further punitive sanctions would be more widely used or more appropriate or more effective.
The full version of this article appears in the September 2013 issue of Family Law.