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Can Police Enforce Family Court Orders Australia?

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Generally, the police do not enforce family court orders in Australia. Family court orders play a crucial role in ensuring the protection and well-being of individuals involved in familial disputes. These orders, issued by the Australian family courts, cover various aspects such as child custody, financial support and property division. However, there are times when one party fails to comply with the court’s orders, leading to significant challenges and potential harm to those involved.

The Australian Family Court System

The Australian family court system is designed to handle disputes related to family matters, including divorce, child custody, property settlement, and financial support. There are two main federal family courts in Australia:


  • The Federal Circuit Court of Australia: This court deals with less complex family law proceedings, aiming for a more accessible and informal process.
  • The Family Court of Australia: This court handles more complex family law cases and appeals from the Federal Circuit Court.

These courts have the authority to issue various types of orders, including parenting orders (covering child custody and visitation), property orders (relating to the division of assets), and spousal maintenance orders.

While family court orders are legally binding, some individuals may choose not to comply with them for various reasons, leading to conflicts and non-compliance issues. Enforcing these orders becomes essential to protect the rights and interests of the parties involved, particularly when children are concerned. However, the police generally do not have a primary role in enforcing family court orders in Australia.


Filing a contravention application for non compliance will usually require a person or organisation to file an affidavit. These includes breaches for parenting orders, or recovery orders.

Limited Role of Police in Enforcing Family Court Orders

In Australia, the police have limited authority to enforce family court orders. Their primary responsibility lies in maintaining public order, preventing crimes, and protecting individuals from immediate harm. As such, they do not have the power to enforce civil matters, including family court orders, as those are primarily dealt with in the family courts.


Despite this limitation, there are instances where the police may become involved when family court orders are breached, especially if there is a risk of harm or violence. For example, if a parent fails to return a child to the other parent as specified in a parenting order, the aggrieved party can report the breach to the police. The police may intervene to ensure the child’s safety and facilitate the return to the custodial parent.


However, the police’s involvement is usually limited to immediate actions for the safety of the parties involved, and they do not have the power to enforce the order’s specific terms, such as ensuring ongoing compliance with visitation schedules or financial support obligations.

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Contempt of Court Proceedings

When a family court order is not being adhered to, the affected party can seek recourse through contempt of court proceedings. Contempt of court refers to a wilful disregard or disobedience of a court order, which undermines the authority and effectiveness of the court’s decisions. Such an application also requires the filing of an application.


To initiate contempt of court proceedings, the affected party must demonstrate that the other party has:


  • Knowledge of the order: The party in breach must have been aware of the court order’s existence.
  • Wilful disobedience: The breach must be intentional and not due to circumstances beyond their control.

If the court finds the party in breach and guilty of contempt, they may face penalties such as fines, community service, or even imprisonment. Contempt proceedings serve as a powerful deterrent against non-compliance and uphold the court’s authority.


Property Seizure and Enforcement Warrants


In cases of non-compliance with property orders, the affected party can apply for an enforcement warrant. This warrant empowers enforcement officers to seize the non-compliant party’s property to satisfy the court’s orders. The court may also issue a warrant to sell the property and distribute the proceeds in accordance with the order.


However, it is important to note that enforcement warrants are typically issued by the court, not the police. The police may be involved in executing the warrant if necessary, but their role is secondary to that of enforcement officers or sheriffs appointed by the court.


Alternate Dispute Resolution and Mediation


In some cases, enforcing a family court order through legal means may not be the most effective or practical solution. Australia encourages the use of alternate dispute resolution methods, such as mediation and family dispute resolution, to resolve family law disputes.


Mediation provides a neutral and structured environment for parties to discuss their issues and work towards a mutually acceptable resolution. It can be an effective way to resolve disputes without the need for costly and lengthy court proceedings.


While the police in Australia have limited authority to enforce family court orders, the family court system provides several mechanisms to ensure compliance and protect the rights and interests of those involved. Contempt of court proceedings, enforcement warrants, and alternate dispute resolution methods play crucial roles in resolving non-compliance issues and upholding the authority of family court orders.


Individuals involved in family law matters should seek legal advice and explore available options to enforce court orders effectively. By doing so, they can promote a fair and just resolution of family disputes and prioritise the well-being of all parties, especially children.


If you are part of a family court proceedings and the other party is in breach of the orders imposed by the court, contact our separation lawyer in Sydney. At Lyons Law Group, our experienced family lawyers will review your case and provide free legal advice to assist you.

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