Recently there’s been a refreshing number of cases where family judges in the UK have taken the unusual step of sending a parent to prison for contempt of Court. Jail time is imposed because of the parent’s failure to comply with family Court orders made within child abduction proceedings.
In the past if a child was taken to a country outside of the European Union or a country that isn’t a signatory to the Hague convention the parent left in the UK often felt frustrated by the legal remedies to enforce UK family Court orders to recover their child from abroad.
After a separation or divorce, and particularly if families have connections to more than one country, one parent may take a child abroad, often back to their country of origin, leaving the child abroad and in the care of their extended family. The parent then returns to the UK without the child to pick up their life again. Sometimes a parent doesn’t even realise that if a child is what is called habitually resident in the UK they can’t just take their son or daughter abroad to live without the other parent’s agreement or a UK Court order . When the parent returns to the UK they often plead ignorance of the law and say that they have no control over whether their relatives comply with UK family Court orders and return the child to the UK.
The Zubaidy family case is a recent example of a situation where a family Court has been willing to sentence a parent to jail time for their part in parental child abduction. Mr Zubaidy took his 3 children into Libya, through Tunisia, leaving the children with relatives in Libya. He then returned to the UK and whilst he eventually returned his son said that he couldn’t sort out the return of his 2 daughters. The family Court took a very robust approach and ordered Mr Zubaidy to provide addresses and information to help recover and return the girls to the UK. Mr Zubaidy didn’t obey a number of family Court orders, and to the mother’s frustration and distress, her daughters remain with paternal relatives in Libya.
Contempt of Court proceedings were started against the children’s father and the Court was able to conclude that Mr Zubaidy had flouted family Court orders and in August 2017 sentenced him to 12 months imprisonment.
When family judges have made robust orders for imprisonment this has resulted in family members abroad cooperating with the UK Court orders and returning children. For any parent caught up in trying to recover their children from abroad getting the other parent imprisoned is the very last resort but can hold the key to the eventual return of their son or daughter.
For advice on any aspect of children law or if you have any concerns about child abduction or enforcement of orders please call me on +44 (0) 1625 728012 or e-mail me at [email protected].