A Contact Order is one of a range of orders available to the Family Courts under Article 8 of the Children (NI) Order 1995.
If a child lives with one parent, a contact order may be necessary to allow the child to visit, stay with, or contact the other parent. This will be necessary if there is a disagreement between the parents about who the child should have contact with.
The child can make an application for a contact order if he wishes to have contact with the parent he does not live with, however he must first get permission from the court to make such an application.
The Court can also make an Order of Indirect Contact. This means the child will not meet the parent regularly but should keep in contact through letters. Similarly the Court may also make an Order of No Contact if it is in the child’s best interests not to have contact with a parent.
In some circumstances the court can make a Supervised Contact Order if it is in the child’s best interests to have someone present during the contact visit. This may be a relative or a social worker. The contact visits may also sometimes take place in Contact Centres. These are safe environments where children and parents can meet in the absence of another suitable location.
The following people may also make an application for a contact order:
- Any parent or guardian
- A person with a residence order in force in respect of the child
- Any person who has lived with the child for at least three years
- If the child is in the care of a local HSC Trust, any person with the consent of that local HSC Trust.
- Any person who has the consent of each person with parental responsibility
If the person applying for leave to make an application for a contact order is the child concerned, the court will only grant the order if it is satisfied the child has sufficient understanding to make the proposed application.
If the person applying for leave to make an application for a contact order is not the child concerned, the court will have particular regard to the following:
- The nature of the proposed application for a contact order
- The applicant’s connection with the child
- Any risk there might be that the proposed application would cause disruption to the child’s life to the extent that it would cause him harm
- If the child is being looked after by an authority, the court will also consider the authority’s plans for the child’s future and the wishes and feelings of the child’s parents.
The general principle is that the court should not make an order ‘unless it considers that doing so would be better for the child than making no order at all’. The welfare of the child is paramount and us such the court will consider the following when deciding whether or not to make any order under article 8 of the Children Order:
- The wishes and feelings of the child
- His physical, emotional and educational needs
- The likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances
- His age, sex and background
- Any harm which he has suffered, or is at risk of suffering in the future
- How capable each of his parents are of meeting his needs
A contact order ceases to have effect if the parents subsequently live together for a continuous period of 6 months or more. Any contact order will also cease to have effect when the child reaches the age of 16, unless the court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances in the case.
If the parent with whom the child lives refuses to allow contact with the other parent to take place, and therefore breaches the order, the parent who has been deprived of contact can apply for contempt proceedings to be brought against the first parent.