Family & Divorce Law

What Happens When a Parent Breaches a Court Order?

When a court makes an order, it is legally binding and must be followed by both parents. Unfortunately, one parent may disregard or breach a court order, causing frustration and potential harm to the child and the other parent.

25 Jul 2023

Team name
Sally Ward

Sally Ward

This article aims to shed light on the consequences when a parent breaches a family law court order and set out what legal action the other parent can take against them.

Understanding Court Orders in Family Law

First and foremost, it’s essential to understand what family court orders actually do. A child arrangements order stipulates which parent the child lives with or if they live with both parents on a shared care basis.

  • A child arrangements order also stipulates what time the child spends each parent and whether that time should be face to face, indirect (such as telephone and video calls or Skype), overnight, supervised.
  • A specific issue order stipulates what steps a parent must take, such as handing over a passport, sending the child to a particular school, and so on.
  • A prohibited steps order prevents a parent from taking certain steps relating to the child such as not changing their name, not removing them from a particular school, not removing the child to a different location or country, not allowing them to come into contact with certain people who may be a risk to them, and so on.

These orders are made to ensure the best interests of the child and promote stability and consistency in their lives.

Types of Court Order Breaches

A parent can breach a court order in various ways. Some common examples include:

  • Stopping the other parent from spending time with the child – One parent refuses to allow the other parent to spend their court-ordered time with the child.
  • Moving away or to another country without obtaining consent from the court or the other parent.
  • Refusing to return a passport or send the child to the school stipulated in the order

Consequences of Breaching a Court Order

When a parent breaches a court order, several consequences may follow, including:

  • Contempt of court – The court may find the non-compliant parent in contempt, which can result in fines, community service, or even imprisonment.
  • Variation of orders – The court may decide to vary the existing court order if it is not working in the child’s best interests.
  • Make-up time or compensatory visitation – The court may order the non-compliant parent to provide additional time to make up for the missed or denied time.
  • Legal costs and solicitor’s fees – The non-compliant parent may be required to reimburse the other party for legal costs and solicitor’s fees incurred due to the breach.
  • Other costs – The non-compliant parent might have to pay the other parent’s wasted costs of travelling to see the child but being refused time with them when they get to the child’s home.
  • Activity directions and conditions – The court can order the parent who breached the order to attend specific programmes, classes and counselling or guidance sessions of a kind that may assist a person as regards establishing, maintaining or improving involvement in a child’s life may, by addressing a person’s violent behaviour, enable or facilitate involvement in a child’s life sessions in which information or advice is given as regards making or operating arrangements for involvement in a child’s life, including making arrangements by means of mediation.
  • Parental alienation considerations – If one parent consistently undermines the relationship between the child and the other parent without any justification, the court may take parental alienation into account when making future decisions.

Seeking Legal Remedies

If a parent finds themselves dealing with a court order breach, it’s crucial to take appropriate legal action. The following steps are always recommended in order to assist you in getting the best results.


Keep detailed records of the breaches, including dates, times, and any supporting evidence such as emails, text messages, or witnesses.


Attempt mediation or alternative dispute resolution methods to resolve the issue without escalating the conflict further.

See a solicitor

Seek legal advice from an experienced family law solicitor who can guide you through the legal process and represent your interests.

Court application for enforcement

If informal resolution attempts fail, you can make a court application to enforce the existing court order and seek appropriate remedies.

M&P Commentary

Sally Ward, Head of the Family Law team at Mullis & Peake, said:

“A court order breach can have significant implications for both parents and, most importantly, the well-being of the child involved. Understanding the consequences and available legal remedies is crucial for parents who find themselves facing such situations. If you believe a parent has breached a court order, consult with a qualified family law solicitor to protect your rights and the best interests of your child.”


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