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What can happen if a contact order is disobeyed

From time to time reports of ‘old’ cases appear on the website of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute, better known as ‘Bailii’. I’ve just come across a group of such reports, all family County Court decisions dating from March and April 2014. As one might expect, most of the decisions relate to care proceedings. However, one private law report caught my eye.

There is nothing remotely special about the judgment in H-R (Children), handed down by Her Honour Judge Newton in the Manchester County Court on the 11th of April. However, it is sometimes useful to mention a ‘routine’ decision of a court, as it illustrates just how the courts operate on a day to day basis. This case, for example, provides a reminder of what a party to family proceedings can expect if they choose to disobey the orders of the court to make their children available for contact – a scenario that is all too common.

The case concerned two children, born in 2005 and 2007. We are not told when the parents separated, but the father applied for contact in April 2011. Eventually, on the 3rd of April 2013, the court made an order for direct contact between the children and their father each Sunday from 11 am until 2 pm. That contact took place on a couple of occasions, but quickly broke down and as soon as the 20th of May the father was taking enforcement proceedings.

A hearing was fixed for the 1st of July, but the mother did not attend and the hearing was therefore adjourned. The mother did attend a hearing on 5th of August, when it was agreed that the contact arrangements be altered so that contact occurred between 6 pm on Friday and 5 pm on Saturday. A final hearing was listed for November 2013.

However, before that hearing could take place the contact arrangements broke down again and the matter went back before the court on the 23rd of September. Once again the mother did not attend, and the hearing was adjourned. Nor did she attend the adjourned hearing on the 11th of October, or a further hearing on the 22nd of November. The case was then transferred to the Circuit bench, where it went before Mr Recorder Murray on the 23rd of January 2014. Yet again the mother did not attend. The recorder made a fresh order for direct contact each Saturday between 4 pm and 7 pm, commencing on the 1st of February 2014.

It should be pointed out that on each of the occasions that the mother failed to attend court there had been appropriate directions for her to attend, usually supported by a penal notice, and that the relevant orders were personally served upon her. There were also repeated applications for enforcement of the contact orders.

Judge Newton sets out what followed next:

“Unsurprisingly, contact did not take place in accordance with the order of the learned recorder. On 4th February 2014 the father in desperation issued an application for the mother’s committal to prison and the mother was served with that application on 6th February 2014.”

The mother did attend the next hearing on the 7th of March. However, she left the court before the matter could be heard. In her absence the court made a 21 day committal order, suspended on the terms that from the 15th of March the mother took the children each Saturday at 4 pm to a particular location and hand them over to their father, returning there at 7 pm the same day to collect them from him. The mother was duly served with this order.

The contact did not take place. A committal hearing took place before Judge Newton on the 4th of April. Again the mother did not attend. Judge Newton was concerned that there was no formal evidence of the alleged breaches of the order and therefore adjourned the committal application until the 11th of April, again requiring the mother to comply with the arrangements for contact between 4 pm and 7 pm each Saturday.

The mother did not attend on the 11th of April. Satisfied that she had been properly served with the relevant orders and that she had failed to comply with them, in particular the terms of the contact order made in connection with the committal order, Judge Newton made an order for the mother’s immediate committal to prison for the period of 21 days.

Despite her clear disrespect for the court in disobeying orders and failing to attend hearings, the mother was given every chance by the court to mend her ways (some may say too many chances). Courts do not want to commit parents to prison, particularly the parent caring for the children. As Judge Newton said:

“It is always a grave step to deprive the mother of two young children of her liberty. Realistically, however, the only alternative is for this court to acquiesce in the mother’s blatant disregard for the orders of this court and to accept that notwithstanding that previous judges have concluded that contact between the children and their father accords with their welfare interests, the prospect of such contact occurring must be abandoned.”

In other words, the court was left with no choice but to commit the mother to prison. A salutary reminder to anyone tempted to ignore the will of the court, and also of the lengths that courts are prepared to go to ensure that children have contact with their parents.

The full report in H-R (Children) can be found here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    Show me a case where a father (usually) who breaks a non-contact order – even in a non-violent way – gets that many chances and I’ll show you a unicorn dancing on a rainbow!

  2. f says:

    I feel very dismayed that the courts let this go on for so long. Poor man, he really went through it. Constant adjournments are very frustrating for the applicant especially when the reason is a no show from the respondant. This story fills me with absolute dread as I am at the beginning of my enforcement order journey. I am the applicant and my first hearing has already been adjourned. I didn’t even have the somewhat more dignified experience of it being adjourned in the court, it was done by phone.

  3. Vince Pitts says:

    Poor man? (As per comment above) Poor kids. The children are being raised in a state of permanent conflict. The children are being given a clear message that you can ignore the court. The mother’s attempts to obstruct contact were completely effective – I couldn’t help but noting that contact was reduced not because there were concerns about the father, but because the mother had refused to comply with the order. As a father, i feel there is no room for error. Give one little hint of being anything but perfect and you’ll risk contact with your kids. As a mother, you can act in ignorance of the best interest of the kids, in ignorance of the court – and get given opportunity after opportunity to move forward. This case alone is such clear evidence of the prejudice we see in family court. The family court is an economy booster but as long as this type of case is allowed to develop, there is little point in a father doing any more than asking ‘Can I see the kids?’ and if the answer is no – walk away.

    • stitchedup says:

      Oh Lord. Oh Dear Lordie Lordie Lord.

    • Nordic says:

      No. You don’t give up. This is your kids. Giving up is giving up on your own kids. Even if you are ultimately not succesful, you owe it to your kids and to you to let them know that you did everything you could. So, you never use the unfair and biased system as a pretext for inaction. You fight on.

    • Nevr Walk Away says:

      Never walk away from your kids, this man did the right thong and fought tooth and nail for his child to have a balanced upbringing, the mother denied that to the child and also disrespected the court and deserved what she was give. Do you know what a loving father in this position is going through? It’s awful.

  4. f says:

    I agree with everything you say but in my experience the courts can be equally prejudice towards women or perhaps it is towards the non resident parent. I’m assuming you felt the need to comment on my poor man quote because I am female. All I was doing was showing empathy whats wrong with that? Read my post properly. I am the applicant therefore I am the non resident parent of one of my children. All im trying to do is continue to see my daughter who is now being groomed by her father because he abused my eldest child and he is losing control.

  5. Luke says:

    Is it any wonder that men give up when the bias in court against them is so flagrant – the woman in this case treated the father and the court orders with contempt over and over and over and over again and yet our system was practically limbo dancing in its efforts to let her off the hook each time – if a man steps out of line more than once he can get crucified in court…

    • Nordic says:

      In my view all this talk about giving up plays right into the hands of those who want to keep the system just the way it is. The real question is why English men accept this sad state of affairs. There are literally millions of fathers that suffer under our biased system of family law. Why have we not had a million man march on Westminster? Why is the treatment of fathers not a major political issue here? If we don’t stand up for equality, then what right do we have complain?

      • Luke says:

        It is not in men’s nature to operate collectively in this fashion and the media is now largely controlled by female interests. You can see that for example in the fact that 60% of University students are now female (and it’s increasing) and virtually nobody says anything – that the vast majority of deaths in workplace are men and yet the only time the media gets interested in the subject is when the female number rises slightly !
        The examples are numerous but the truth is nobody gives a s__t about any of these matters unless it affects women.
        As for individual men giving up, I am not recommending it but it is not surprising. Continually battling for contact with your child in the hostile environment that is Family Court means constantly having to get time off work and racking up debts with lawyers – can you imagine what it was like for this guy as he turned up time after time and his ex-wife keeps getting a pass ?
        I would add that the only reason she ended up getting punished at all was that she wasn’t very smart – if she’d been a bit more canny she could have dragged it out for so long that the child would have grown up without knowing him at all – it’s happened before…

      • Stitchedup says:

        I have to agree with Nordic, Men’s organisations need to work together more effectively and a good way to kick start that would be to organise a mass march on Westminster. Contributing to blogs such as this is not really making any difference; visible, tangible action is needed by a large number of men and women who share our concerns for the welfare of families and children, the rights of men and boys and oppose the systematic criminalisation of the male gender. We don’t need one or two men dressed as superheroes clambering on roofs, we need large numbers of everyday men demonstrating that this is a mainstream issue not just the concern of a small number of disaffected individuals.

  6. Jo Archer says:

    And if the father didn’t apply for Parental Responsibility for the first 12 yrs of their child’s life and then gets a so-called ‘consent’ order that requires the child to travel to the other side of the country to stay overnight with a comparative stranger once a month?

    There is nothing here to explain why the mother a) didn’t feel able to attend court and b) thought it best to take the serious step to defy the court. Is she an idiot or does she have a different view of what is best for her children, considering that she cares for them day in and day out?

    • Andrew says:

      That’s what we have courts for: to adjudicate when parents differ about what is best for their children. Neither has a trump card, although this woman was allowed to act as if she did for far, far too long.
      Orders for contact, once made, should be like non-contact orders: to be obeyed unconditionally and immediately.

  7. StuG says:

    the father applied for contact in April
    Presumably, nothing much happened…..for two years
    Eventually, on the 3rd of April 2013, the court made an order for direct contact between the children and their father each Sunday from 11 am until 2 pm. (Three hours contact per week. For children now 7&8 years old).
    Order is flouted by mother.
    Father applies for Enforcement proceedings
    Hearing on 1st of July, but the mother did not attend and the hearing was therefore adjourned.
    Hearing on 5th of August, when it was agreed that the contact arrangements be altered so that contact occurred between 6 pm on Friday and 5 pm on Saturday. A final hearing was listed for November 2013.
    Mother flouts order.
    Hearing on 23rd of September. Once again the mother did not attend, and the hearing was adjourned.
    Hearing on 11th of October, mother does not attend
    Hearing on 22nd of November, mother does not attend
    The case was then transferred to the Circuit bench, where it went before Mr Recorder Murray on the 23rd of January 2014. Mother does not attend. Recorder made a fresh order for direct contact each Saturday between 4 pm and 7 pm, commencing on the 1st of February 2014.(removing the overnight stay).
    Mother flouts order.
    On 4th February 2014 the father in desperation issued an application for the mother’s committal to prison and the mother was served with that application on 6th February 2014.”
    Mother attends hearing on 7th of March. Court makes a 21 day suspended committal order.
    Mother flouts order.
    A committal hearing on 4th of April. Mother did not attend. Judge Newton was concerned that there was no formal evidence of the alleged breaches of the order and therefore adjourned the committal application until the 11th of April,
    11 April – mother committed to prison, three years after initial application for contact by father.

    ‘Nothing remotely special’ about the case

    ‘What to expect if you disobey the court.’

    A ‘salutary reminder’ …..‘of the lengths that courts are prepared to go to ensure that children have contact with their parents.’

    Really? Is it not best described as an indicator of how biased, unhelpful and corrupted the family courts are?

  8. Luis says:

    Reading this blog entry and the comments above remembers me another post last year about whenever the courts are biased or not. It seems clear by this case (and thousands of others more) that there is a double standard whenever the applicant is a father or a mother. Some would argue that it does not have to do with being a man or a woman but more with about the resident parent and that the courts in the best interest of the children do not want to disturb their daily life. On balance, using this last argument, we could say that the court found to be worse to jail the mother and upsetting the children than letting them without contact with the father for many years.
    The argument of the children best interest is often used by courts, social services, and the police to disguise actions which are outright outrageous and only they are run to their very end, often for years long (if the man persists enough) we can appreciate the sheer absurdity of the situation. Letting a woman repeatedly disrespect the court during 4 years and a sentence of 21 days in jail is absurd: it should never had taken even one year, and court disrespect should not come this cheap.
    The fact is that there is no such thing as the children’s best interest on British society, that is just an excuse to cover the “women’s best interest” for it is assumed from start that the children are from the women and as such their interest is also the children interest. It is impressive just how much harm the police, SS, and courts are prepared to do to children in order to enforce this.

    • Christopher Murphy says:

      I constantly hear the argument about what is in the child’s best interests. I totally agree with Luis because that child should if possible have gone to its father and his support mechanisms. How dare the courts delay in punitive action for her contempt. If a man did not pay his maintenance or similar he would eventually be arrested and thrown into prison. And, no court cares about him and the 2000 + men who commit suicide because of the flagrant disregard that SOME women have for our Judicial System that is contanty failing children aided and abetted by ‘Experts’ that are full of old fashioned and biased dogmas and mantras. I frequently hear afrom ex Social Workers that leave the ‘spurious profession’ because they see that there is no training for understanding men when going through their course and are sickened by the hyprocrisy of practitioners spouting on about being Gender Neutral. We at will get parity and fairness to permeate through the courts because we do not fail in any challenge

  9. R says:

    Apologies if this has already been pointed out but due to a previous profession I often found myself called as a witness to court. Some of these cases were very serious, I recall a couple of occasions where other witnesses called failed to show, the judge made an order that a police officer was sent to their home to collect them and bring them to court. I have on one occasion seen a warrant issued for a witness that failed to attend three times.

    If we can do this in the legal system why is there no scope to do this for these hearings? Surely the repeated no shows is a direct contempt of court and not following the orders would be obstruction of the court? Why can’t these charges be brought much sooner rather than waiting three years and then simply jailing the woman?

  10. Chris Ingram says:

    What I find strange is that the article comes across as “didn’t the courts do well”. But they didn’t. How many hearings did it take before the children finally had the opportunity of a brief relationship with their father? The court system is entirely biased against male gender and anti-dad.

  11. Ross Stone says:

    Maybe if the courts used their powers a little more freely and put parents in prison, or at least gave them community service, it would stop these disgusting excuses for parents from trying to prevent their children from seeing the other parent. The law says that it does not want to act as it fears by doing so it may damage the children. I ask how? Surely the children could stay with the other parent (like having a holiday) causing very little disruption to the child compared from being isolated from a parent. Once this had become the norm punishment for breaking Orders of this kind then just maybe the law would actually put these vial selfish parents off breaking it. In many cases they don’t seem to respect it now and have no fear of their unlawful actions. If the law really cared about the children it would want to put an end to this total disregard for Court Orders and what these parents are doing to their own children, it is child abuse.

  12. james says:

    My ex also showed no respect to the court and broke the contact order a couple of Times, twice I bought it for enforcement…………….

    No punishment…….nothing.
    What would of happened to me (male) if I’d broken the order………hmmm

  13. N says:

    I am currently going through the court process as my 10month old sons father is pursuing contact
    Firstly I’d like to point out I did allow contact when my son was born but stopped it after 3 month and unlimited chances for his father to stop drinking when with my son not an unreasonable request in my opinion.
    My experience so far of the family court system as a mother who is forced to represent herself as I don’t have £3000.00 to spend on a lawyer to attend hearing with me is no one ACTUALLY is acting in my sons best interest all they are concerned about is his fathers RIGHT TO CONTACT…I’ve been labelled as unreasonable for not agreeing to unsupervised contact and told it will happen regardless.
    How is this in my sons best interest? For him to be distressed confused scared and as he is onlt 10 months old he is completely reliant on someone to meet all his needs HIS FATHER HAS NO IDEA OF HIS NEEDS! HE STRUGGLES TO MEET HIS OWN NEEDS NEVER MIND A TOTALLY DEPENDANT CHILD! I’m sorry but if not allowing this to not to happen makes me a bad mother in some people’s eyes THEN MAKE ME A BADGE AND ILL WEAR IT WITH PRIDE!
    The court have ordered at present supervised visits by my mother on Sundays one has taken place so far my sons father has been made to promise to abstain from alcohol 24hrs prior to and during contact as one of the contact dates is New Year’s Day HE ASKED FOR IT PUTTING OFF FOR A DAY …I wonder why? So he can get pissed New Year’s Eve I had no choice but to agree.
    But due to circumstances beyond my control I need to change Day he completely refuses which will force me to breach and his solicitor has also said in email that he will insist I am punish when we return to court end of Jan.
    I’m sorry but how is any of that fair justice everything is pro dads !
    The law states that the only person with right of contact is the child and yet all I hear about is his fathers rights
    My son is a happy and content little boy why should his life be disrupted why should he be sent off to strangers would this be his choice if he could speak NO!
    Mothers are labelled as the villains stopping fathers seeing their children……
    Who is standing up for my rights as a mother who is listening to what I want for my child who cares about how I feel being forced to send my baby off with strangers……..NO ONE…..NO ONE AT ALL…..and when I don’t comply and I’m sent to prison who is going to care for my children? THE PERSON THAT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PUTTING ME THERE…..HIS FATHER ULTIMATELY HE WILL GET WHAT HE WANTS AT ANY COST BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS ON HIS SIDE AND AGAINST ME…..but I’m only his mother I don’t count do I ?

    • Kay says:

      I feel your pain I am going through the same. My sons father didn’t meet him until he was 2 and a half (his choice) I get a letter from the courts one day,him demanding full weekend access to a child he never met. I was pot raid as a bad mother in court for not agreeing. I had to allow 6 hour contact twice a week for 4 week and then move on to weekends. My son begs me not to send him. He says he doesn’t like it there. I am refusing to send him because my baby is not ready and now I’m in contempt of court when we return in January. I represent myself. I have 3 children a full time job and an arse of an ex who now decides he is dad of the year. What is the worst that will happen to me when we go bak to court? I can’t lose my baby.

  14. Stitchedup says:

    You may find you’re up against the “we’ve heard it all before” syndrome. Accusing men of having a drink problem is a common tactic for women and their lawyers.

    • N says:

      He admits drinking no one really sees it as a problem cafcass recommended promising the court to abstaining for 24hrs prior to contact and breathalyser before contact but still said there was NO safeguarding issues …….none of it makes any sense to me. I was even told at first hearing if I didn’t comply there were serious consequences which would eventually lead to my son being removed from my care and residence awarded to his father as my failure to allow my son contact with his father could be seen as neglect or abuse. Is that in my sons best interest is that putting his wellbeing first NO is it going to cause him undue distress and emotional harm YES are they not the key points on the welfare check list when deciding if any order should be made? YES
      What’s the point of having a “no order principal” if the present situation is one in which a child is happy secure and content why upset all of that and force them to have contact with someone they don’t know the only person benefiting from that is his father and I’m sorry but the fact he is willing to put his son through that shows he has no regard for the effect any of this will have on his son it’s about what he wants and nothing else this is wrong on so many levels.

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