Defiance of Family Court Orders Will Always Lead to Sanction


Custodial sentences very rarely come into play in the family courts. Where there have been repeated breaches of court orders, however, judges may have little choice but to clamp down. This was illustrated 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 number of 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.

Contempt of court having been established, the Court needed 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 custody threshold had been met 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.

Share this article