Child law

Guidance given on child contact-related costs

Posted by
Walker Family Law
Read more

Guidance given on child contact-related costs

There can often be costs involved with a parent’s contact with their child, for example when the contact takes place at a contact centre, or is supervised. But who is responsible for paying these costs? A recent High Court judgment has provided some guidance.

Supervised contact

The judgment concerned child arrangements proceedings which hit the headlines late last year because of some very serious findings against the father, who had previously been a Member of Parliament.

The relevant background to the case was as follows:

1. The parties were married in 2013 and have one child, born in 2018.

2. The parties separated in that year, when the mother left the family home, taking the child with her.

3. The father had various mental health difficulties which led to his hospitalisation for a time. In March 2019 supervised contact started, by agreement, on alternative Sundays.

4. In June 2019 the father applied for a child arrangements order, allowing him to spend time with the child.

5. In July 2019 the court ordered that supervised contact was to take place at a contact centre for two hours a week. The father paid the cost of the contact centre.

6. In March 2020 contact was suspended during the lockdown.

7. On 26th March 2020, the father applied for the cost of the contact centre to be met by the mother, as he was unemployed and he said the mother was earning a substantial salary (by then the mother had herself become a Member of Parliament).

8. An order of 4th May 2020 varied the contact during lockdown to two 30-minute sessions of virtual contact every week, on a Tuesday and a Saturday. The order said that when lockdown was lifted then contact was to resume at the contact centre as per the July 2019 order. The order of July 2019 was amended so that contact costs were to be shared equally between the father and mother.

9. On 6th September 2020, direct contact was reinstated.

10. In November 2020 the court made serious findings of abuse against the father, including that he had raped the mother.

11. Notwithstanding this, in June 2021 the court ordered that contact, which had stopped again in December 2020 due to a further lockdown, should restart at the contact centre.

12. The mother appealed against this order claiming, amongst other things, that the Judge was wrong to order that the mother, a victim of rape, should share the costs of supervised contact with her rapist, the father.

Hearing the appeal, the High Court had to answer two questions in relation to the contact costs: Firstly: does the court have the power to order a party to pay contact costs? And secondly: should a victim of rape or domestic abuse share the payment of the costs of contact with their child with the perpetrator of that rape or domestic abuse?

Can a party be ordered to pay contact costs?

The High Court found that the answer to this question was yes, the court can order a party to pay contact expenses.

The law specifically enables the court to include directions in a child arrangements order, about how it is to be carried into effect. The power to make such directions is wide, and making an order for a party to pay the costs of contact comes within the wide ambit of what is permitted

Should an abuse victim share the contact costs?

Here, the High Court gave the guidance on this question. It said that there must be a very strong presumption against a victim of domestic abuse paying for the contact of their child with the abuser, and that such an order should only be made in wholly exceptional circumstances, after taking into account a number of factors, including whether the contact is in the best interests of the child, and whether it would take place without a sharing of the costs.

In this case the High Court set aside the Judge’s order that the mother pay a proportion of the costs of contact.