Rule#1: Stay calm! Don't allow yourself to be provoked, do not lose your temper, do not try to force your way in and, above all, do not get violent. If you do, then you are just playing into her hands. She will be able to use your violence against you in any future court proceedings, making it far harder for you to obtain a contact order.
OK, so what do you do? First of all, find out why contact is being refused. Here are some typical responses:
- The children are ill. What is wrong with them? If it is something trivial like a cold, then refusing contact could be unreasonable. If it is something more serious, then you are entitled to know about it. Will she let you see them, even if you can't take them out? If they require medication, then can you take it with you and administer it while you have the children? If contact does not take place, consider ringing in a few days, to see how the children are.
- The children don't want to see you. Why not? Can you talk to them? Obviously, their age(s) will be a factor here: the older they are, the more weight their wishes will be given. Do you think their mother is turning them against you? If so, you may have to act quickly to get a contact order - see below.
- I've made other arrangements for the children. If she has made arrangements for the children to do something that they could have done on any other day then this is unreasonable, assuming that the contact visit was pre-arranged.
- You can't see them until you've paid the maintenance. As I've advised many times before, contact and maintenance are two completely separate issues. You should, obviously, maintain your children, but even if you are not paying a penny you are still entitled to have contact with them, and they with you.
- You didn't bring them back on time previously. Is this correct? If so, was there a good reason? Obviously, contact arrangements should be kept to, and if you haven't been keeping to them, then you will need to re-establish trust by giving assurances and keeping to arrangements in future.
- I don't want them coming into contact with your new girlfriend. Obviously, introducing children to a new partner should be handled sensitively, but if the new partner is part of your life, then they will be part of the children's lives too, unless there is a very good reason why not.
- I don't want them coming into contact with your family. Why not? Your family is the children's family too, and the children are entitled to have a relationship with them too, unless there is a very good reason why it would be against their interests.
- I'm not satisfied that your home is suitable for them to stay overnight. OK, this could be reasonable, in which case invite her to your home, to assure her that you do have suitable accommodation. If she refuses, then this could be unreasonable.
- I don't trust you to look after them properly. Why not? Have you given her any reason for this in the past? Is there any reason why you are not fully capable of looking after them? Unlikely. Parents obviously have different views as to what is and is not acceptable, and she cannot force her views upon you, so long as your care for them is equally adequate.
- I don't trust you to bring them back. Does she have any good reason for such a fear? If not, then this is unreasonable. If so, then you will have to satisfy her that you will bring them back, or make an application to a court.
- She refuses to give a reason. Almost certainly unreasonable. Consider instructing a solicitor, or issuing a contact application - see below.
If you are not able to discuss matters reasonably with her, or if she still refuses to allow you contact, then walk away. The longer you stay there, the more likely there will be an 'incident', or she will allege that you are harassing her. Obviously, you will have to consider instructing a solicitor, or issuing a contact application.
Keep a contemporaneous diary of your contact with the children and any problems that occur. This could be extremely useful in any future court proceedings. If there have been regular breaches of agreed arrangements, this would give you grounds for an application to the court.
Your court options depend upon whether or not you already have a contact order. If not, then you can apply for one. An application should be made to the divorce court if there are divorce proceedings or if not, to the local family court. An application form can be found here. If you already have an order, then you can apply to enforce it. Your enforcement options include committal to prison (unlikely, unless there have been regular and blatant breaches of the order), a fine, an unpaid work requirement and financial compensation. Most likely, the court will try to make the contact work, for example by redefining it to deal with problems that have arisen (e.g. fixing a neutral venue for collecting and returning the children), before taking enforcement action. For more information about enforcement of contact orders, see this guidance leaflet.
Obviously, this post has only scratched the surface of what is a huge topic, but hopefully it has given some useful pointers. Remember, though, that the advice given here is only general - for advice specific to your matter, consult a solicitor.