A mother involved in a contact dispute with her daughter’s father has been threatened with prison.
In T (A Child), the former couple’s daughter was approaching her 12th birthday. The father had applied for a contact order allowing him to see his daughter, ‘E’, in October 2011.
At the Family Court in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Her Honour Judge Moir noted that:
“Since that date, court proceedings have been ongoing.”
The mother ceased cooperating with either the court proceedings, or with the girl’s legal guardian who had been appointed by the Judge earlier this year because of “the concerns that I had about the situation”.
The mother insisted that her daughter did not want to see her father, that she knew her own mind and could not be “forced” to see him. She became “visibly distressed by the suggestion she have contact”, she said.
In September of this year, District Judge Kramer made an order requiring the mother to attend a case review hearing on November 28. This contained a warning that if she did not do so, she would be in contempt of court and sent to prison.
She failed to attend, breaching the order. The Judge declared:
“The matter, therefore, for the court, having found the breach, is how the court deals with that breach.”
The Judge who staged the hearing on 28 November indicated he would have ordered immediate imprisonment if he had been able to deal with the matter on that day.
However, Christmas was now approaching and the court could not know when an order committing the woman to prison for contempt would be carried out. If it was carried out by court officials the week of December 15, there would be no issue. However, the local courts were to close for the entirety of the following two weeks, not reopening until January 5.
The Judge stressed the need for urgent progress with the case – in particular, the need for the guardian to discuss with E why she is so opposed to contact with her father. Without such input, the Court would be unable to make a decision on the girl’s best interests.
Her Honour Judge Moir therefore ruled that the mother’s two week prison sentence should be suspended on the basis that the mother attend court for the next hearing on a date still to be determined.
“…the order will spell out that failure to attend on the date that we will fix will mean the activation of the suspended sentence and, further, punishment for the continuing contempt if she fails to attend on the occasion specified.”
Read the full judgement here.
Photo by Jim Bowen via Flickr