Magistrates ‘can issue arrest warrants’ for maintenance defaulters

child maintenance

Magistrates can issue warrants for the arrest of parents suspected for defaulting on their maintenance obligations, a High Court Judge has concluded.

The case concerned a former Polish couple. In 2009 the father had been ordered by a family court in that country to pay maintenance for an unspecified number of children. He did not do so. By 2014, still in pursuit of child support, the mother had become convinced that the father, ‘Mr K’, had travelled to England. She therefore applied to the Polish authorities for enforcement of the maintenance award in the UK, under EU Regulation 4/2009. This governs  “the jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and cooperation in matters relating to maintenance obligations”.

The Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Obligations (REMO) Unit in the Office of the Official Solicitor transferred the claim to the Family Court in Manchester, where it was suspected that the father was living.

However, extensive efforts to formally ‘serve him’ with court papers have been unsucessful to date, explained Mr Justice Peter Jackson.

“Notices have been left at his address, but personal service has not yet been achieved [court officials have been unable the deliver notice of the proceedings to him].”

While this process continued, the magistrates handling the case sought clarification of their authority from the family court. They wanted to know whether they would be able to issue a warrant for the father’s arrest if efforts to serve him proved futile.

In a concise judgement, Mr Justice Peter Jackson concluded that they would have the jurisdiction to do so, under Section 31 of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. This states that

“(1) In any proceedings in the Family Court, the court may make any order-

  1. a) which could be made by the High Court if the proceedings were in the High Court, or

  2. b) which could be made by the county court if the proceedings were in the county court”

This meant, said Sir Peter, that magistrates could indeed compel the attence of people alleged to have defaulted on their maintenance payments.

He continues:

“This conclusion harmonises with the reality. Magistrates are full judges of the Family Court, performing an indispensable role, and their powers are subject only to the distribution of cases …. Their ability to carry out their work effectively would be stultified if they lacked the power to enforce their own orders for a party to attend before them.”

The full ruling can be read here.

Image by Matt Brown via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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2 comments

Andrew - May 17, 2017 at 3:16pm

Doubtless correct; it is right that he should appear.

But the sooner we say that we will not enforce maintenance debt by imprisonment – whether the order was made here or not – the better. Imprisonment for debt is wrong.

A - May 17, 2017 at 3:25pm

In divorce precedings: Regarding a final court order, ‘what is the likely outcome’ for husbands who agree and sign a court order but then ‘disobey a court order’ regarding being ordered to pay a couples joint bank account and being ordered to have it then closed, which is in arrears of £3,500 but within the over draft limit of £5,000. If a wife was at the time the order should have been carried out by the husband, “was not being represented” at the end of December but the husband decided not to comply for whatever reason, what would the courts (able to have an emergency 15 mins slot with a judge) view and action in this matter / circumstance if it took an application (costs £150) to apply for this to be unfortunately dealt with by the courts? The wife was abroad and not represented at the end of December this year when the court order was supposed to be carried out by the husband. In an attempt to appease the husband the wife leaised with the bank in question and have herself removed from the joint account but because she is also liable for the debt, could not appease him and thus the account requires being paid in full if the account is to be changed from a joint account into a sole account. The main question is when husbands have their wives over a barrel and disobey court orders, how does the court view these matters? Since the wife has now learnt that having a joint account is also attached to a credit report and they are associated with
credit reports. Moreover in divorce, it’s important to have all the financials in order, more importantly the couple needs to close a joint account before filling out ‘disassociation’ forms for the purpose of severing an credit history they had together. Since still having a joint account associates the couples credit rating and may have a detrimental effect on any loans applied for. The question is: why on earrth would a husband wish to aggravate or be apparently spiteful in divorce precedings by disobeying a signed and agreed court order?
Yours Faithfully,
Ms A

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