Father sent to prison in ‘tit for tat’ case

Family life

I wrote here the other day with some basic advice for litigants. In that post I advised that parties should respect the court, and that they should obey the requirements of the court. I almost added that they should obey the orders of the court, but I felt that that was too obvious.

The recent case Richards v Martin is a classic example of a party failing to follow that basic advice, and of the consequences of that failure. It is also a classic example of how not to use children in a dispute over arrangements for them.

The judgment concerned an application for the father’s committal to prison for breach of an order requiring him to make three of the four children of the family available for contact with the mother. As it turned out, the crucial point there was the ‘three of the four children’, as I will explain.

We are not given a great deal of the history of the matter in the judgment, but it seems that the parents have been separated for some time. As indicated, they have four children, now aged 13, 11, 10 and 9. After the separation all four children initially remained with the father, and the father cooperated with the mother having contact with them.

All of that changed when the eldest child left the father and went to live with the mother. The father sought contact with her, but contact has not taken place, as she has made it clear that she does not wish to see him.

The father responded to this in two ways, both of them with awful, or potentially awful, consequences for the children.

His first response was to deny the mother contact with the three youngest children. She had been seeing them once a fortnight, but on nine occasions prior to the committal application the father failed to take the children to the designated collection point. He claimed that they did not want to go and that he could not force them. This was not accepted by the judge dealing with the committal application, Her Honour Judge Hughes QC. She found that the children did wish to see their mother and that the father was quite capable of ensuring that they went. She concluded that he deliberately and persistently disobeyed the order.

She also found that there were no good reasons for disobeying the order, although the father did give several reasons. One of these was the other response I referred to, one that sadly we come across all too often: he claimed that the children were at risk of sexual abuse during contact. However, he was unable to produce any evidence in support of this allegation, and an investigation by the local authority found no evidence of sexual abuse at all.

There is one final, telling, action that the father took. Facing a custodial sentence, he told the judge that he loved the children, but he loved himself more and said that ‘the mother can have the kids’ if the judge would release him. Obviously, that cynical ploy completely destroyed his case and showed, as the judge observed, that there were actually no problems between the children and the mother.

In the circumstances, Judge Hughes found that the breaches of the order were so serious that she sentenced the father to a term of imprisonment of 28 days.

Now, I will try to be as even-handed as possible in commenting upon this case. The father found himself in what he considered to be a desperately unfair position. He was being expected to allow the mother to see three of the children, but he was not being allowed to see the fourth child. I can understand how he felt that he was being unjustly treated. However, no matter how unfairly you feel you are being treated there is obviously no excuse for using the children in this way. Denying the mother contact in a ‘tit for tat’ response is obviously contrary to the children’s welfare. And making false allegations of sexual abuse is one of the worst things that a parent can do, with potentially hugely damaging consequences for the children.

Whatever you do in response to a perceived unfairness, do not use the children as a weapon. The report does not explain whether he did this, but the father obviously should have made a contact application through the court. Of course, the issue is that the views of an older child are likely to be given greater weight by the court, and it may therefore be that the court would not make a contact order, but that would simply be because that is what the court considers the child’s welfare demands – the court would not be denying contact simply to be unfair to the father.

The full report of the case can be found here.

Image by Dave R via Flickr

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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26 comments

Vincent McGovern - September 6, 2017 at 7:29pm

I appreciate the sensitive manner in which you present this very sad case John and indeed agree with you on all the points you make. However, one rather big elephant in the room is tramping around. How many times have parental alienating mothers been jailed either by HHJ Hughes or indeed any other judge where, if we reverse the gender, false sexual abuse allegations are made.

Whenever that day comes, and it doesn’t have to be via imprisonment as community service also exists, then the horrible blight of parental alienation which is the purest form of emotional abuse of a child will be greatly reduced. And that is something I am working towards.

Paul Massey - September 7, 2017 at 11:43am

Hear Hear, Vincent. What is also of interest is that the least permissive judges tend to be women. Lady Justice Parker, Black, Macur. I applaud that this guy got punished of course, but, as many have said, it’s the egregious double standard. that sticks in the craw. I assume the dad here said ‘wait, I can’t go to prison, I’m a father of four kids’…

I was advised recently by counsel that CAFCASS is institutionally sexist. I was trying to be liberal about it all and aver that maybe ‘the system’ is not biased in favour of mothers, but of resident parents. The tendency towards conservative outcomes is embodied in the ‘no order’ principle. The problem is that PA cases MUST be dealt with aggressively, unlike perhaps all other matters involving children. PA MUST be nipped in the bud, or it festers and the alienation deepens.

My barrister thought that a tendency towards conservatism was the wrong charge, in CAFCASS’s case – they are simply gender-biased. This perception is not helped when they put out a report about domestic violence with the input only of women’s aid, with no voice from any of the many fathers’ groups. And when Anthony Douglas comes along in Feb 2017 on the Victoria Derbyshire show talking about this brand new thing he has just discovered – parental alienation!

CAFCASS needs reform from the ground up.

This judge is a women too, I notice. Maybe we simply need more judges with some plain simple common sense, and maybe, just maybe, those judges tend to be women.

Paul Massey - September 6, 2017 at 8:46pm

its fun to see what happens when the genders are reversed.

Paul - September 6, 2017 at 11:26pm

Can’t read this. Swap these possitions around and ask yourself would this mother be going to jail ?
Absolutley not. It would not even occur to the judge.
Why is jail a fitting punishment for a father but never a consideration for a mother.
CLEAR BLATANT INSTITUTIONAL SEXISM.
There a thousands of women who have used their children in exactly the same way and never even faced condemnation from the court.
This sexism and double standard is so blindly transparent. How does it continue ?

John Bolch - September 7, 2017 at 11:30am

Bolch’s Law:
Mention a case in which a father gets punished for breaching a contact order, and that is an example of gender bias. Mention a case in which a mother gets punished for breaching a contact order, and that is an exception to the rule.

Paul - September 7, 2017 at 2:00pm

Me and many fathers appreciate the feeling of been in a no win scenario. Lol fustrating isn’t it ?
We could easily let statistics deside this one.
How many women breach family court orders? How many of those women face a prison sentance. How many men breach family court orders? How many of those men face a prison sentance ? How many months jail time is spent (average) by fathers, how many hours (average) by mothers for breaching family court orders.
These figures should be easily obtainable with an access to information request. The results would either support what I am saying or support what you are saying.
Will you accept my challenge John Bolch ?
Your supposed to be a legal professional who respects evidence and proof. Lets obtain some. It will make a much more interest debate.
Or we can carry on splitting hairs indefinatly.
Facts are facts John. Is their any point still debating if the world is square now we have satalites orbiting and mapping the entire planet. Institutional sexism is taking place. Statistic bear that out. Its no longer a theory or conspiracy. Its a fact.

John Bolch - September 7, 2017 at 3:23pm

Hmm, this post is not about whether or not the courts are biased. Clearly I need to clarify Bolch’s Law (as I nearly did earlier):
Mention a case in which a father gets punished for breaching a contact order, and you’ll get commenters telling you that is an example of gender bias. Mention a case in which a mother gets punished for breaching a contact order, and you’ll get commenters telling you that is an exception to the rule.
Applies every time. 🙂

Stitchedup - September 7, 2017 at 4:24pm

It’s simply a question of numbers John, women breach orders frequently with impunity. Men are rarely in a po to breach a contact order, they’re usually at the receiving end of non mols or the like. Oh, and we’re told by the moj and the like, that women are special, and everything should be done to avoid women entering the criminal justice system… The bias is bare and blatant John.

John Bolch - September 7, 2017 at 4:48pm

Read my lips: This post is not about whether or not the courts are biased.
*sighs*

Cameron Paterson - September 7, 2017 at 6:31pm

Paul did say earlier that he hasn’t actually read the post

John Bolch - September 7, 2017 at 6:34pm

Obviously, not reading a post must disqualify you from commenting upon it.

Paul - September 10, 2017 at 9:09pm

Read it just fine. Thought you guys were not going down the banning and over editing route. Read it. They guy slipped up by not paying the court. Putting in another contact application. Silly mistake. Clearly deserves a prison sentance.

Yvie - September 7, 2017 at 3:47pm

Alienation is not gender specific and the courts should not be gender specific when dealing with such cases. I am not sure if sending either parent to jail is helpful, rather remove the children from the care of the alienating parent into the care of the alienated parent. Most people take the view that children need both father and mother,and it is more likely to be the case if the healthy parent has residence of the children.

Paul - September 7, 2017 at 5:30pm

I understood the post just fine. An Johns law. Lol offering an example of the courts taking alternative issues appleases nobody and does not in anyway address the systematic abuse in place. But for all of us with experience of the family court system. T his highlights the double standard enacted by the courts with regularity. I take it you won’t be taking me up on my challenge which will vindicate what we are all saying ?

Cameron Paterson - September 7, 2017 at 6:21pm

Why not make the FoI request yourself Paul? Tell us the results and we’ll report them here.

Paul Massey - September 8, 2017 at 1:33pm

Good idea. This is a simple matter of fact. Presumably there must be data. Look forward to seeing that.

Paul - September 10, 2017 at 8:49pm

Ill get right on it 🙂

John Bolch - September 7, 2017 at 6:24pm

Look, people, you’ve really got to stop doing this. You can’t keep on hijacking posts and turning them to your ‘biased family courts’ agenda. I don’t care how strongly you believe that

Paul - September 10, 2017 at 8:56pm

Its at the heart of everything you write about. How can we do that ? – how would you like us to respond ? – I fear people will keep commenting like this until the system is perceived to be more balanced. I would think. I can’t see the point of getting cheesed off about it. Our words falling on def ears then we are compeled to talk about it more. An more. Alot like what the suffregettes did. Though it is about time they changed the record lol.

Anon - September 8, 2017 at 11:39am

re ‘Mention a case in which a mother gets punished for breaching a contact order’, that would be the thing to do.

I agree figures are lacking.

Re the case, which I read above. 1. a step up for John engaging in the debate. 2. teens being awkward happens. Like with Madonna and Richie. I am having that myself currently and hurt likes hell.

The taking kids away then expecting you to be ok with having them every now and then may work for the kids and the resident parent (doubtful, but is lawyers argument and the law) but usually the court orders are shit, especially for the other parent.

So faced with separation there are six choices:
1. Shared parenting (50:50)
2. Do not divorce
3. Go along with court
4. Run away
5. Fight (including this person)
6. Do a deal between you

I don’t recommend option 3. I always was an idealistic romantic, for the same reason I wouldn’t work at Auschwitz, obeying orders didn’t work for the Nazis and Neurenberg and its an argument not working for John here. Option 6 is the way to go.

Options I have seen work:
Option 6, 4, 2, 1

I know of two instances of jailing for non compliance, both were men.

Anon - September 8, 2017 at 11:54am

The run away probably isn’t the way to go either. I know someone who took his son and drove off and had a good life. I probably shouldn’t have suggested it was a viable option.

The problem with the statement of arrangements contact orders is that no adults have any rights in the law behind them.

Anon - September 8, 2017 at 12:22pm

I suppose my point is, I have a contact order and have found it to be unenforceable and then faced with Parental Alienation Syndrome and teen apathy to non resident parent (me), I find the obeying orders line a difficult one to stomach. As has been said above, if they were even enforced and enforced even evenhandedly then I would agree with John.

The problem is that family court orders are only enforceable if they are financial, or if you are a woman. I have found court unable to deal with obstruction and PAS by my ex, hearing that thats what we should do sounds like an illegal order against decency to me. We need fairer courts, or failing that transparency and clean financial breaks.

I have some time for the establishment, but they need to be fairer to the fathers. I will apologise if John can post a case of a woman going to jail sentenced by family court england and wales. More evenhandedness please. I have a contact order, it is worthless as the kids are teens and don’t want to do what it says due to pas it is thus (because of bad law) unenforceable.

If anyone can advise otherwise, please do so. I assume it is unenforceable as Madonna couldn’t enforce Rocco to come and stay which is pretty much same situation I have. Does anyone seriously think I should try and get contact through the court (every other weekend) or take what is offered (now and again, once a month)? I am thinking I would be wasting my breath and money with court.

My only point really is this, courts dont seem to be interested in contact providing some contact takes place, and that is bad and giving divorce a bad name. I mean, ffs, its not rocket science, we should be able to divorce without f’ing up the children or the other person, sort it out please John and court, don’t come up with this ‘powerless’ crap. Make default fifty fifty or enforce what works for children but the current unenforceable nature and no rights for non resident parents when faced with limited contact not in adherence with contact orders is the real issue which John (AGAIN) continuously fails to address. He just says it can’t do anything, when it can (like in this case where I support the judge).

So, as per my original post, Mention a case in which a mother gets punished for breaching a contact order. Then provide statistics and people may start listening to you John. the thing is we all have experiences of our own of courts being less than welcoming places and especially unhelpful trying to get more contact if you see your children at all, its a low bar that needs raising.

Anon - September 8, 2017 at 12:26pm

So, as per my original post, Mention a case in which a mother gets jailed or imprisoned I think is the English english word for breaching a contact order. Then provide statistics and people may start listening to you John. the thing is we all have experiences of our own of courts being less than welcoming places and especially unhelpful trying to get more contact if you see your children at all, its a low bar that needs raising.

Anon - September 8, 2017 at 12:31pm

Its possible to live without your kids, but its not nice. John suggesting there is no issue is a drag. Publish details of a woman being jailed for not providing contact and I will take that back. It is a big issue.

Anon - September 8, 2017 at 1:32pm

Expecting child support from a parent who is not living with the children is pushing your luck also. Especially with animosity and name calling from the resident parent, court, and everyone else. I can see why many end up dead or in gutter or elsewhere rather than pay their tormentor.

Paul - September 10, 2017 at 9:03pm

Welcome Anon. Another victim of the system speaks up. An John wonders why we can’t change the record an talk more cheerfully.

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