When the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) makes parenting orders, there is an expectation that all parties will abide by those orders. If a person disobeys the orders, or the person has made no reasonable attempt to comply with the orders, they can then be found to be in breach of the order. When a contravention of parenting orders occurs, the FCFCOA may vary the orders, or a Contravention Application can be filed against the party who breached or ‘contravened’ the orders. The FCFCOA conducts a discrete Contravention list which hears Contravention Applications with the aim to deal with them promptly and efficiently.

When a contravention of a parenting order is taken to have occurred:

Apart from not obeying a parenting order, contraventions of a parenting order occur in the following ways:

  • removing or failing to deliver a child to a person;
  • interfering with another person’s entitlements or responsibilities under a parenting order; 
  • interfering with communication between a child and another person who has entitlements or responsibilities under a parenting order; and
  • interfering with any benefit a child might receive from a parenting order. 

What is considered as a ‘reasonable excuse’ for the contravention of a parenting order?

The FCFCOA will consider a person to have a ‘reasonable excuse’ for contravening a parenting order if:

  • the person genuinely did not understand the terms of the parenting order; or
  • the person believed that a contravention was necessary to protect the health or safety of the child or someone else. 

What are the categories of contravention?

There are generally 4 categories of contraventions. It is important to understand that each category carries with it a separate solution enforceable by the FCFCOA. The categories of contraventions are as follows:

  • the contravention is alleged, but not proved in Court: the unsuccessful party will likely have to pay some or all of the other party’s legal costs;
  • the contravention is established, but the person offers a reasonable excuse: the party affected by the contravention will likely receive compensation for the time that they did not spend with the child, or some or all of their legal costs;
  • the contravention is established, but is not serious: the consequences are the same as if a reasonable excuse existed for the contravention, but in addition the party who contravened the orders may be ordered to attend a post-separation parenting program, and the parenting orders may be varied to their detriment; and
  • the contravention is established and is serious: the party who contravened the orders will be ordered to pay the other party’s legal costs and may be subject to criminal penalties including a bond, fine or imprisonment. 

Potential contraventions of parenting orders is a very technical legal procedure and can be a confronting process. Contraventions are best approached with advice from a family law professional. For more information on how our Family Law team can assist you, please contact us at craddock@craddock.com.au

The law is complex and changes frequently. The law may have changed since publication of this article.