The mother of two children has been declared in contempt of court.
The case concerned a Kenyan couple living in Britain who married in 2004. The husband had indefinite leave to remain in this country, while the wife had acquired British citizenship. The children, aged nine and six at the time of the ruling, were both born in the UK.
In 2013, the relationship broke down and the couple separated. The mother and the children moved out of the former matrimonial home in London but later returned after she was granted an occupation order following allegations of “domestic abuse”.
The children continued to live with the mother but saw their father regularly at weekends. Meanwhile the mother complained that the father did not provide her with enough financial help.
In December last year, the father applied in the family court for a residence order, specifying that the children should live with him. He also claimed the mother had threatened to take the children to Africa and asked the courts to prohibit such a move.
Despite this development, the mother took the children to Botswana to stay with her own mother shortly afterwards. She insisted that she did not receive notice of the proceedings from the court.
Sitting in the Family Division of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Jackson said:
“Whether or not the mother had notice of the proceedings, it is perfectly clear that she made that decision without regard to the views of the father, who she knew did not support any move by the children out of England.”
He criticised the mother for “planning and executing this trip without reference to the children’s father.”
While still in Botswana, the mother applied for residence permits for the two children, allowing them to stay in the country and attend school. She then returned to the UK without them, in order, she said, to sell the former family home. But when she arrived her passport was seized and she was detained.
Subsequently, the courts issued a series of no less than seven court orders relating to the return of the children from Botswana to the UK. Eventually the children were returned but only after the father himself flew out to Botswana and brought them back earlier this year.
Subsequently the husband applied to the courts for the mother of this children to be sent to prison, alleging that she was in contempt of court.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson noted that a criminal standard of proof was required for such a finding, saying he could not find her “to be in breach of any order unless I am sure of it.”
Nevertheless, after carefully considering the evidence, the Judge concluded:
“I had the very strong sense that she considered and still considers herself to have acted in the children’s best interests as she sees them to have been; that she made in my estimation little real effort to comply with the court’s orders – she paid no more than lip service to the requirements that the orders placed upon her.”
The mother was given a sentence of four months in jail, suspended on a number of conditions, including that she:
*Obeyed all current and future court orders, for the breach of which imprisonment was a penalty.
*Returned the children promptly to their father at the end visits.
*Did not take the children out of England and Wales without permission.
Read the ruling here.