Can police enforce family court orders?
The Police cannot enforce family court orders unless a parent makes a recovery order. This means that generally, police will not be brought in to deal with a breach of a family court order.
Breaching a family court order
When making a parenting order, it is the responsibility of parties to that order to ensure they are complied with. When a party believes that the other party has breached a provision in the family court order, they will have to undertake dispute resolution to resolve any issues.
If this process is unhelpful, the party is then able to make a Contravention Application to the Court.
The Court will find that a party has contravened an order if they have failed to follow a provision and do not have a reasonable excuse for doing so. This may include findings regarding:
- The individual intentionally breaching the order
- The individual did not make any reasonable attempts to comply with the order
Breaches may also be found in cases where parties help other individuals breach the order or prevent a party from complying with an order.
A Court will find that there has been a ‘reasonable excuse’ for the contravention of a parenting order if:
- The party has misunderstood their obligations under the parenting order
- The party reasonably believed that it was necessary to contravene the order to protect the safety and health of the child, parent or another person
- The act which contravened the order was not longer than what was reasonably necessary in those circumstances
If no reasonable excuse is found, the Court may decide to impose a penalty upon the breaching party. There are a wide range of different penalties, such as ordering a party to attend a post-separation parenting program.
Failing to return a child to the other parent is a serious breach, and can result in the police’s involvement.
It is also notable that a Court can make an order varying a parenting order if the alleged contravention is not proved. This may help clarify each party’s obligations such that such alleged breaches do not occur in the future. If a reasonable excuse is found, the Court can also vary the original parenting order to include the behaviour, in order to save the parties time and resources if such conduct ever occurs again.
A recovery order is directed towards the Marshal of the Court and empowers the Police Force of the relevant state or territory, along with the Australian Federal Police to recover the child.
If the other parent with the missing child cannot be found, the Court is able to make a location order and direct agencies to provide information regarding the recent whereabouts of the child. Such relevant agencies commonly include Centrelink.
Hence, in most circumstances where breaches are not serious, police will not be involved. There is limited jurisdiction in which they will be able to intervene and help enforce your Family Court Order. However, if circumstances are serious, the Court does have the power to involve police and ensure that serious actions are taken to retrieve your child safely.
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