Failing to comply with court orders to bring children back to the UK, in instances where one parent has taken them abroad without the permission of the other, can come at a heavy cost. This point was underlined in a recent contempt hearing at the High Court.
In this case, a father had failed to comply with a series of orders requiring him to bring his son back to the UK from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
After being granted a Child Arrangements Order under which the son was required to live with him and have supervised contact with his mother, the father took the boy to live in the UAE, without the mother’s knowledge. He then applied to the Court for leave to relocate his son, saying that he had gone to the UAE for ‘essential work reasons’ and had decided not to return.
His case that he should have permission to relocate with his son was repeatedly rejected by the Court and multiple return orders were issued, which he ignored. The child’s mother then applied for contempt of court committal of the father for his failure to comply with the orders.
Amongst the various reasons that the father had given as to why he could not return to the UK was an inability to book travel, once flights between the UAE and the UK resumed in June 2021 following the pandemic, due to all flights being full. However, this was dismissed by the Court as a flimsy excuse.
The Court found that it was proved to the criminal standard of proof that the father deliberately disobeyed the orders at all times. A 12-month custodial sentence was imposed but, to enable the father to return to the UK without being instantly arrested, a special provision was made. This established that if, within the following 28 days, he returned with his son to the UK and thereafter remained in the UK with the child, he would not be arrested at the airport.
Further requirements were that the father’s and son’s passports be taken to prevent the father leaving the country again, that the father should provide details about where he would be living with the child on his return, and that a hearing should be arranged within seven days to consider child arrangements. If that happened, the order requiring the father to serve a term of 12 months in prison would not take effect and there would be a further hearing to consider sanctions.