The Courts have to ensure that their decisions are enforced and are never happy when you break family court orders.
Contravening, or ‘breaching’ a Family Law Court Order is a serious matter and the Family Court of Australia can impose upon the offender a fitting punishment.
Consequences of Ignoring Existing Court Orders
If a court order is ignored, under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), there are several penalties available to punish the party who is found to have contravened Court Orders.
The Court may make an order:
- That varies an existing order; or
- Resumes the arrangements set out in an earlier order; or
- Compensates a person for lost contact time with a child or puts the offending party on notice that if they continually refuse to comply, they will be punished.
The Court may also choose to create entirely new Orders which provide for different arrangements.
Often, these provide greater certainty that the Orders will be complied with.
Ignored Court Order Punishment Options
If you are not seeking punishment for the offending party and simply want a quick remedy to ensure the resumption of earlier arrangements, it may be possible to file an ‘Application in a Case’ rather than an ‘Application – Contravention’.
The Court also has the power to impose a more serious order such as a good behaviour bond, community service, major fine, or imprisonment.
Reasonable Excuse to Ignore Family Court Orders
In some cases, there are acceptable reasons behind the contravention of the Court Order.
For the Court to accept a contravention, the excuse for doing so must be a ‘reasonable excuse’.
This can include when the offending party did not understand the obligations imposed by the Order, or if they believed it was necessary to breach the Order to protect the health or safety of themselves, a child, or another person.
This can include circumstances when parties breach parenting orders because they believe the child is at risk in the other party’s care.
If this is the case, it is advised that legal advice is sought as to whether you should seek for the Orders to be changed before you have to breach them.
This can mean you will not have to wait for the other party to bring contravention proceedings against you.
Contravention proceedings should be confined to the clearest cases.
This precedent was established in the case of Biddell & Ervin  where the party applying for the Contravention Orders had to prove that the contravening party:
- intentionally failed to comply with the order, or
- made no reasonable attempt to comply with the order, and
- has no “reasonable excuse for contravening” the order under s 70NAE or any other “reasonable
Principal of Justice Family Lawyers, Hayder specialises in complex parenting and property family law matters. He is based in Sydney and holds a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Communications from UTS.