The law provides mechanisms for the enforcement of parenting orders. As a first stage the court attaches an information sheet to all orders which sets out the obligations of parenting orders, the consequences of them and where a person can get help in relation to the orders.

If a parent alleges that the other has failed to comply with a parenting order they can make a Contravention Application to the court, but usually only after attempting mediation. If the other parent is found to have failed to comply with a parenting order, without reasonable excuse, the court can impose a penalty on that person. The penalties vary depending on the type of the contravention and its seriousness. One of the most common penalties for a less serious, and first contravention is to order the parent to attend a post separation parenting program. In serious cases, the court can even impose a sentence of imprisonment, although this power is used very rarely.

If a parent fails to return a child, as they are obliged to pursuant to an order, the court can make a recovery order. This is an order directed to the Marshal of the Court, the Australian Federal Police and the police force of each state and territory of Australia to “recover” the child and return him or her to the other parent.

In cases where the other parent cannot be found, the court can also make a location order directed at agencies, most commonly Centrelink, to provide the court with information they may hold about the location of the child.

Note that the state police have no power about parenting orders unless a recovery order has been issued. If you know where your child is and are concerned about their safety, you can request the police to a welfare check.