If the other parent of your child claims that you violated a parenting order and applies for a contravention order, the consequences can be serious. A Family Law Court can order you to pay money to the other parent and can even order your imprisonment.
You have options for defending against the application. Since your freedom may depend upon your response, you should always obtain legal advice before you do anything else.
If you are having difficulty complying with a parenting order, you may be able to negotiate an agreement with the other parent to change the terms of the order. For example, if the order allows you to spend Tuesday nights with your child, but it would be easier for you to return the child on time if your visits were on Thursday night, you might be able to persuade the other parent to agree to change the day specified in the order. If you can reach an agreement, you can ask the court to enter a consent order that varies the terms of the original order.
A Family Law Court will not punish you for disobeying a parenting order if it believes that you had a reasonable excuse for your contravention. A reasonable excuse might include:
Disagreement with the order is not a reasonable excuse for disobeying it. Anger or unhappiness about the other parent’s new living arrangements (including his or her new partner) is not a reasonable excuse for disobeying a parenting order.
Your child’s refusal to comply with the order may or may provide you with a reasonable excuse for contravention. For example, if the order permits the other parent to take the child for a period and your child says “I don’t want to go,” allowing the child to remain with you will probably be considered a contravention unless your take all reasonable steps to encourage your child to go with the other parent. Only if the child’s actions are beyond your reasonable control is the court likely to believe that you have reasonable grounds for contravening the order by allowing your child to remain with you.
If you have a reasonable excuse for contravening the order, you will need to present evidence of that excuse in court. Usually, this is done by submitting affidavits. You will need to prepare your affidavit. You may also want to obtain affidavits from witnesses who have relevant information. A lawyer can help you prepare the affidavits and assist you in deciding which witnesses are likely to be helpful to your case.