Breaching family court orders

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    Changes to this area of law

    There have recently been changes to this area of law. We are working to review the information on this page and how these changes may affect you.

    If you can’t agree on arrangements for your children, then a court may have to issue an order.

    Disobeying (breaching) a court order is a serious offence unless you have a reasonable excuse.

    Under the Family Law Act, a ‘reasonable excuse’ has a legal meaning. You have a reasonable excuse for breaching a court order if:

    • you believed you had to—to protect someone’s health or safety, or
    • you didn’t understand that you were breaking the order at the time.

    What if my children don’t want to visit their other parent?

    There’s no set age when children can decide where they live, or who they spend time with or communicate with. If the children refuse to visit, you still need to encourage them to spend time with the other parent or other people who are important to them unless there is a risk to them.

    If there’s a court order saying the children should spend time with the other parent and they don’t want to go, you should get legal advice. If the dispute ends up in court, it will consider the children’s age and their maturity when making a decision.

    What if a parent doesn’t want to spend time with the children?

    Parents don’t have to spend time with or communicate with to their children if they don’t want to. You can’t force the other parent to spend time with their children, even if there are court orders in place. The court will not force a parent to spend time with them. If you want the other parent to take more responsibility you can try family counselling or dispute resolution.

    What if the arrangements aren’t working?

    If the arrangements for your child are no longer working, a court order will continue to apply until you get new consent orders, a new parenting order, or make a new parenting plan.

    If the court orders are no longer working, you should get legal advice about how to change them. To make changes you can:

    • apply to court for the order to be changed or cancelled
    • talk to the other parent or other people involved about changing the arrangements.

    What happens when a court order is broken?

    The court has wide powers to deal with people who breach parenting orders. If the court finds a person breached an order without a reasonable excuse, it can:

    • order a person to participate in a parenting program run by an approved counselling service (helping them focus on their children’s needs and to sort out conflict)
    • change the existing order—for example to compensate the other parent for any time lost with the children or to change other arrangements.

    If a parent disobeys an order multiple times, or if the court believes the parenting order is being ignored, there may be more severe penalties. These include:

    • paying for any expenses incurred because of the breach (such as loss of airfares)
    • paying some or all of the other person’s legal costs
    • community work
    • entry into a bond for up to 2 years
    • a fine
    • a jail term of up to 12 months.

    If you’re accused of breaching a court order or you think someone else is breaching a court order, you should get legal advice.

    Do I need legal advice?

    You may need legal advice if:

    • you or your children are at risk of harm
    • one parent wants to move to another area this will make it more difficult for your children to spend time with the other parent
    • you have been accused of breaking a court order, or a court says you have broken an order
    • you have concerns for your children's safety if you return them to the other parent
    • your child hasn’t been returned to you—whether or not you have court orders
    • your court orders or arrangements for the children are not working and you want to change them.

    Get legal advice

    We may give legal advice about making agreements for the arrangements for children.

    The following organisations may be able to give legal advice.

    Community legal centres give legal advice on a range of topics. Contact them to find out if they can help.

    Women's Legal Service gives free legal advice to women on areas of law including domestic violence and family law.

    Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private solicitor for advice or representation.

    Family Relationship Advice Line gives information about the family law system in Australia.

    Who else can help?

    These organisations may be able to help. They don’t give legal advice.

    Family Relationship Centres gives information, referrals, dispute resolution and advice on parenting after separation.

    Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia deals with family law cases. Court forms and information on family court processes are available online.

    Department of Child Safety, Seniors and Disability Services investigates reports of harm or suspected child abuse against any child under 18.

    Domestic and Family Violence Court Assistance Services gives information and help about domestic violence and applications in some courts in Queensland. Court assistance workers can also help with applications for Legal Aid and referrals to other services.

    DV Connect — gives counselling, information, referral and help including refuge and shelter placement and crisis intervention to people affected by domestic violence. They also manage the Pets in crisis project arranging foster care for pets while people affected by domestic violence are in temporary accommodation.

    Mensline (DV Connect) is a free, confidential telephone counselling, referral and support service for men.

    Relationships Australia offers a range of men and family relationship services including counselling, family dispute resolution, assistance on relationship and parenting matters and education courses.

    Queensland Police can help if you or your children are at risk of harm.

    Disclaimer: This content is for general purposes only and not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, please contact us or speak to a lawyer. View our full disclaimer.

    Last updated 25 January 2023