Fathers who are denied access to their children are frequently heard to complain that judges do not do enough to support them. In coming down hard on a defiant mother who refused to countenance her child having contact with her father, however, a family judge showed that paternal rights are never forgotten.
Professionals were involved in the child’s life even before her birth. Child in need and child protection plans, together with a supervision order, were put in place. Despite a social worker’s recommendation that she should have regular contact with her father, her mother was adamantly opposed to the idea, asserting that the child would be upset. The father had not seen his daughter for over a year.
After the father launched proceedings seeking contact, the mother failed to attend a number of court hearings, even when ordered to do so by a judge. She was granted the opportunity to appear in court by video link but continued to absent herself. She was banned from relocating with the child outside her local area.
An order was made for the child to spend time with her father for two hours on every alternate Saturday and the mother was warned of the consequences if she did not comply. She nevertheless remained firm that, even if arrested, she would not allow the father to see their child. She was ultimately ordered to attend an appointment at a contact centre for access arrangements to be made. When she failed to turn up, the father sought her committal to prison for contempt of court.
Ruling on the matter, the judge was satisfied to the criminal standard of proof that she had, in breach of the order, chosen not to attend the appointment. Her failure to do so was not a trivial or minor procedural matter in that it effectively rendered the whole purpose of the proceedings pointless. She had not admitted the breach and had displayed the opposite of contrition.
Her contempt was aggravated by her non-attendance and non-engagement in the proceedings and the only mitigation that she could reasonably advance was that she was the child’s primary carer. The judge acknowledged that her imprisonment was likely to have an emotional effect on the child. Alternative care arrangements could, however, be made and steps would be taken to protect the child, as far as possible, from the consequences of her mother’s actions.
In sentencing the mother to 28 days’ imprisonment, the judge noted that it was not his objective to punish her but to enforce her compliance with court orders. The jail term was suspended on condition that she attend the contact centre at a particular time on a particular day. She was warned that, if she failed to turn up to that appointment, the prison sentence would be brought into effect.