Enforcing a court order for family court

Nov 1, 2022 | News

Child refusing visitation

When an order is made in the family courts in England and Wales about financial, child care or contact arrangements, the parents usually comply with what the court has ordered.

But what if one, or both parents, ignores the terms of the order? How can the family court’s order be enforced against the person not complying?

This article will explain what you can do if the other party is not doing what they have agreed, or what the court has ordered them to do.

What can the courts do if my ex is breaking the terms of the family court order?

The courts, of course, expect people to comply with what they are told to do in a court order and if someone ignores the terms of an order without very good justification, they can be found in contempt of court. This could result in a fine, community order, or in the most extreme and serious cases, prison.

However, if your ex is not complying with what the court ordered, it is usually much better to correct the situation directly with them, rather than asking the court to enforce the family court order. Mediation can help you have these conversations with your ex and reach a result that you can both live with and, most importantly, will be in your children’s best interests, if the disagreement is around contact arrangements.


What can I do if my ex is not paying maintenance as ordered?

If your ex is not paying the maintenance they were ordered to pay, or does not pay it on time, it can quickly have a serious financial impact on the person who relies on that maintenance to live – and on the children who the maintenance is intended to provide for.

It is often very difficult for separated couples to discuss these problems directly between themselves, and mediation can be the quickest route to find out what the problem is and how it can be fixed.

There could be a valid reason why your ex is not making payments – for example, they might have changed, or even lost, their job. Mediation can help you have an objective and non-confrontational discussion with your ex to explain the reasons why the maintenance is not being paid as expected, and help you negotiate an agreement to get things back on track without having the need for enforcing the costs order in the court.

If mediation does not provide a satisfactory outcome, or if your ex will not take part in this voluntary process, your only remaining option might be to take the matter back to court for them to decide. Depending on the circumstances, the court might order your ex to bring the payments up to date by a specified time, or they might order that the money is paid to you direct from their wages, if the court decides they can afford to pay but are refusing to. Or the court might decide that your ex’s financial situation has changed significantly and order a different amount of maintenance from now on.

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child refusing contact

What if my ex is not keeping to contact arrangements?

Again, mediation might be the best option to get contact arrangements back on track without involving the courts. After all, it will be in your child’s best interests if contact with their other parent can continue on an amicable basis.

If the breaches are minor, even if persistent and regular, and more an annoyance rather than having a serious impact on your child, an outcome you might aim for through mediation might be to explain to your ex-partner the impact their actions have on the children and try to find out the reasons why they find it difficult to comply exactly with the court order. It might be that a small change to the agreed times, or days of contact, will help to resolve matters.

If all else fails, and the breaches have a more serious on your child and your ex continues to break the terms of the court order, the last resort would be to apply for a family court enforcement order.

You are likely to need a solicitor’s help to make the application to court and present your case to the judge. The court will always consider the child’s welfare and what is in their best interests when deciding how to enforce, or modify, the order. This can be a stressful, lengthy and costly process, depending on how much the parties disagree and argue over and what reports the court decides it needs to help it come to a decision. It is usually not possible to get Legal Aid for family court matters.


It can be extremely frustrating and annoying – not to mention disrespectful to the court – when one party does not comply with a family court order. Mediation should usually be your first choice to try and get the arrangements working as they should again. It is usually in everyone’s best interests, particularly the children, if these problems can be resolved without costly, lengthy and emotionally draining court proceedings. If the party who is not fully complying with the court order can be brought back into line through a non-confrontational mediation process, it can prevent the stress caused to your children with them feeling caught in the middle of parents fighting over them.

Talk to one of our friendly and experienced team on 0113 468 9593 to find out how we can help you.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    Can a family court order be enforced?

    It is nearly always better to get arrangements ordered by the court back on track by agreement between you rather than taking it back to court. Mediation can be a very effective way of keeping these difficult conversations on track, focused on the issues that need to be resolved, and as non-confrontational as possible. However, if mediation is not successful, then an application can be made to the court to enforce the order they have made.

    Is it expensive to enforce a family court order?

    It can end up being quite expensive to ask the family court to enforce an order that is not being complied with. It also takes a lot of time and is likely to be a very stressful process. Legal Aid is not usually available for these sorts of actions and it is likely that you will need to use a solicitor to advise you how to frame your application and to present your case in court. Mediation is a much cheaper and more effective way of coming to an agreement to get the court order complied with. Legal Aid is also available for mediation in these circumstances for those on low incomes.

    What can I do if my ex is not doing what the court ordered and it is a problem for my child?

    There are two ways of sorting these sorts of issues out. One way is to discuss the problem directly with your ex, try and find out what the problem is exactly and explore whether you can agree between yourselves different arrangements that will work better. Mediation can be a great help in helping you have these difficult conversations, which are never easy between separated parents. Another way would be to ask your solicitor to write to your ex and persuade them to comply with the court order, with a threat to ask the court to enforce the order if they will not do so voluntarily.

    Can someone go to prison for not complying with a family court order?

    Court orders must be complied with by all parties and failure to do what the court orders can amount to contempt of court. If the court considers someone has been particularly reckless, disrespectful, or persistent in ignoring the court’s orders, they have the power to punish the offender. This can be by a fine, or by making them do unpaid work for the community, but in extreme cases they could send someone to prison for persistently, blatantly ignoring the court’s orders, particularly if it puts the child at risk of harm.

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