Shared Parenting Information Group (SPIG) UK

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Enforcement of Contact Orders in USA

Alison Kitch, Assistant Professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, Lexington, Virginia USA has some interesting proposals for the enforcement of contact orders by the withholding of child maintenance payments and eventual transfer of residence.


The USA has long been ahead of UK in Family Law matters, as shown by the very positive statements about post-divorce parenting in the statutes of California and other states:
"The legislature finds and declares that it is public policy of this state to assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy."
In addition, US case and statute law provides for enforcement of contact orders by the following means: There are also restrictions on geographic movements which would effectively deprive a child of regular contact with one parent, failing which it is the parent who moves who picks up all the costs of contact - something the UK courts have resisted.

A Four Stage Plan

In a carefully thought out article, Alison Kitch proposes a four stage plan to ensure that parents honour their obligations to ensure that contact takes place. The procedure is intended to be swift and is backed up by sanctions with teeth, the details of which will be provided to both parties at the outset of their divorce proceedings.
  1. When contact ordered by the court is initially obstructed, the aggrieved parent may make a complaint to the court. If the complaint is upheld the court will order increased contact and also additional contact to compensate for time lost and will remind the parents that this is a matter to be treated seriously.
  2. If contact is obstructed a second time, another complaint can be made, which if upheld would carry an automatic jail sentence. The court would have the discretion as to the length of sentence, or whether community service could be substituted. Most importantly the court would note its concern with the priorities of a parent willing to go to jail rather than abide by court orders.
  3. Obstruction of contact for a third time would, when the matter returned to court, cause automatic suspension of child maintenance payments. The offending parent would again be reminded of the court's displeasure and told that by her actions of intentionally depriving the child of maintenance she had now reached the second stage of proving herself unfit to be the primary residential parent. Maintenance would cease until the periods of make-up contact had taken place and normal contact resumed.
  4. If after all this, the offending parent still obstructed contact, on further application the court would automatically reverse the child residence arrangements.
The author, whilst admitting these steps may seem drastic, claims that none of these steps are without precedent in USA and concludes by saying:
"In fact it is much less drastic to threaten to change (or actually to change) the custody of a child from a custodial parent who refuses to honour court ordered visitation to the non-custodial parent than it is to frustrate the opportunity for that child to know his non-custodial parent."
Based on an article by Alison Kitch, published in the International Journal of Law and the Family 1991 Volume 5, No 3, p318.


It is worth noting that following the death of Lord Justice Ormrod, the chief opponent to jailing mothers who refuse to abide by court orders, the way is now open for the UK to implement a well-defined procedure on the lines of the above for ensuring that the parents with whom the children reside honour their commitments.

David Cannon

Last updated - 27January 1997

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