Disobeying family court orders will always lead to sanctions

Mandeep Clair

Article written by Mandeep Clair, Family Solicitor

Custodial sentences rarely come into play in the family courts. However, when there have been repeated breaches of court orders, judges may have little choice but to clamp down. This was demonstrated in the High Court during committal proceedings that stemmed from a child custody dispute.

The background to the case involved contested proceedings between the father and mother of a young child. These concluded with a court order establishing that the child – a daughter – would live with the mother. Three months later the daughter travelled with her father to Florida for a two-week holiday, but she was not returned to her mother as had been arranged.

The mother made several applications in a bid to secure her daughter’s return. Although the father had engaged remotely on a few occasions, he had declined direct invitations from the court to identify where he and his daughter were staying and had not returned her to the UK despite a series of orders requiring him to do so.

With contempt of court having been established, the court had to decide whether a prison sentence should be imposed upon the father. In making its decision, the court found that a series of serious and continuing breaches of court orders had taken place. In those circumstances, the court found that the threshold had been met for a custodial sentence and the father received a 12-month sentence. For his daughter’s sake, the sentence was suspended for 28 days to allow him to return her in accordance with court orders. If he did this, he would have the opportunity to apply for his contempt to be purged and his prison sentence lifted.

For more information on the contents of this article or to discuss a particular family law matter further, please feel free to email me or contact the team on 020 8858 6971.