What happens if I do not comply with parenting orders?
Unless your child’s safety is at risk and/or you can establish that there is a ‘reasonable excuse’ for contravening a Court Order, you are required to and should always comply with parenting Orders.
If you are unable to establish that you had a ‘reasonable excuse’ as to why you have not complied with a parenting Order, you will most likely be met with an application by the other parent.
If your matter was previously in Court, you will likely find yourself before the same Judge who decided your matter initially and/or made the original Orders.
Unless you can establish a ‘reasonable excuse’ for contravening the Order, it is unlikely that the Court will be sympathetic to you for breaching the Order and you may be ordered to pay the other parent’s costs of bringing the Contravention Application.
In some circumstances, where the Judges considers the Order unworkable, the matter may be referred back for rehearing on the issues with a new set of orders to be made.
What is a ‘reasonable excuse’
Unfortunately, the term ‘reasonable excuse’ is not exclusively defined in the Family Law Act 1975.
However, the Family Law Act 1975 does provide that a person is taken to have had a ‘reasonable excuse’ for contravening a parenting order if:
- The person who contravened the Order did so because he/she did not understand the obligations imposed by the Order at the time the contravention occurred; OR
- There are ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe that contravening the Order was ‘necessary’ to ‘protect the health or safety of a person’ (including the respondent or the child) AND the period of contravention was not longer than was necessary to protect the health or safety of that person.
Obligations and consequences of failing to comply with a parenting order
Attached to the back of each parenting order made by the Court is a fact sheet that details your obligations and the consequences of not complying with parenting orders. The relevant parts regarding compliance are as follows:
Your legal obligations
You must do everything a parenting order says. This includes taking all reasonable steps to follow the order.
Penalties for failing to comply with a parenting order
A court can only penalise someone for failing to comply with a parenting order if another person files a contravention application alleging the person did not comply with the order.
After considering all the facts of the case and applying the law, a court may decide:
- The alleged contravention was not established;
- The contravention was established but there was a reasonable excuse;
- There was a less serious contravention without reasonable excuse; or
- There was a more serious contravention without reasonable excuse.
If a Court finds that you have failed to comply with a parenting order without reasonable excuse, it may impose a penalty. Depending on the situation and the type of contravention, a Court may:
- Order you to attend a post separation parenting program;
- Compensate for time lost with a child as a result of the contravention;
- Require you to enter into a bond;
- Order that you pay all or some of the legal costs of the other parties;
- Order that you pay compensation for reasonable expenses lost as a result of the contravention;
- Require you to participate in community service;
- Order you pay a fine; or
- Order that you be imprisoned.
A Court may also make a further order that discharges, varies or suspends the order or renews some or all of an earlier order, or adjourn the case to allow a person to apply for a further order that alters the parenting order.