Breach of court orders in family law is an offence because all orders which are made by the courts are binding on all parties. Where a “reasonable excuse” cannot be provided, the breach of court order in family law is a serious offence. In family law, court orders could either be in the form of financial orders, or more commonly in the form parenting orders.
In case a party has breached a parenting order, there are various legal approaches that the other party can take in response to this breach. The aim of this article is to explore what breach of court order in family law could entail, what the consequences are, what applications can be made in response to breach of court order in family law, and what can count as “reasonable excuse.”
Importantly, a breach of court order is an offence regardless of whether the court order was made on an interim basis, or finalised basis.
Breach Of Court Order In Family Law: What Counts As Reasonable Excuse?
According to the Family Law Act, anyone who has breached a court order is said to have a “reasonable excuse” to do so, if:
- The person was genuinely unaware that they were breaching the order at the time;
- The person believed they had to breach the order so as to protect someone’s health, safety or well-being;
- The breach of court order in family law did not continue longer than necessary to protect the health and safety of the other person.
For instance, let’s suppose that a parenting order requires parents to spend time with the child based on an alternate-week schedule. In this instance, if a parent fails to drop a child off at the other parent’s residence and cites safety and security of the child as the reason to do so, it might be considered a “reasonable excuse” of breaching the court order.
Breach Of Court Order In Family Law: Consequences
If it is found that the court order was breached without a reasonable excuse (as mentioned above), the court can exercise its powers in penalising the person who has broken the order. It can:
- Change the parenting order and any other arrangements perhaps to compensate the other parent for any time lost with the child/ren;
- Make orders that make the person who breached the court order to participate in programs. This can include parenting programs or other counselling programs which enable the person to focus on their child’s requirements and resolve existing conflicts with the other parent.
In case of repeated breach of court order in family law, there could be stricter penalties. For example, the following severe penalties can be ordered by the court:
- order the person to engage in community work;
- require the person to pay for all the legal costs of the other person;
- paying for all losses that may have incurred as a result of the breach;
- a heavy fine;
- in extreme scenarios – jail term for up to 12 months or so.
Former Partner Has Breached An Order? Steps To Take
Broadly, there are two approaches that a person can take if their former partner has breached court orders.
Firstly, in case of minor breaches, both parties can engage in family dispute resolution to resolve the conflict. Moreover, if the other party breaches the order because they find it unfair or ineffective, it is important to have a discussion and apply to the court to have the orders changed.
If both parties are in agreement that there needs to be some changes to the order, they can also formulate parenting plans to reflect these changes.
It is important to provide evidence that the parties have attempted to resolve conflicts through Family Dispute Resolution. The court issues a Section 601 certificate as evidence of Family Dispute Resolution.
Secondly, in cases where the other party is repeatedly breaching orders where the other party has no reasonable excuse to do so, and Family Dispute Resolution is not appropriate, the party who is affected by the breach of court order in family law can apply for a Contravention Application.
The person making the contravention application will need to prove that the breach occurred. The court will make decisions based on the circumstances of the breach, reasons behind the breach, whether the party repeatedly breached orders, and whether it was a minor or major breach.
Examples of family court’s response to contravention applications include:
- Making an order to vary the existing order;
- Making an order to compensate the other party for lost time with the child/ren;
- Making an order stating that all arrangements under any previous order shall resume;
- Making an order requiring the party (who breached) to pay for some or all legal costs of the other party
- Making an order requiring the party to attend parenting programs;
- Making strict orders regarding fines and imprisonment (in case of major breaches)
Importance Of Seeking Legal Advice
Breach of court order in family law is a serious issue. When one party fails to follow court orders, it often causes great distress and inconvenience to the other party. Court orders cannot be taken lightly, and must be followed.
Legal advice is important in such scenarios because such breaches will often impact your child’s health and well-being. Particularly, if you think your child’s safety is under threat because of your former partner breaching court orders, it is very important to obtain legal advice from professionals.
At JB Solicitors, our family lawyers have a wealth of experience in dealing with a range of family law issues involving parenting disputes, child custody arrangement conflicts, and breach of orders. Our compassionate team will provide market-leading advice for you to resolve your matter.
We also offer fixed-fee pricing for key family law services. Importantly, in case of conflicts and disputes, we have award-winning mediators in our family law team who can help you and your former partner by facilitating healthy discussion to reach a satisfactory outcome.
If you have more enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact our team. Get in touch with JBS today