Few people associate Family Law proceedings with prison sentences, but it is important to remember that Family Law courts take compliance with orders seriously, and can and do impose custodial sentences in cases of persistent or serious breach.
There has, for many years, been a concern that some Family orders lack “teeth” in the event of non-compliance, but in recent years, Family courts have demonstrated an increasing willingness to send people to prison if they fail to comply with the terms of orders. Recent examples where custodial sentences have been imposed include failures to make Children available for contact with the other parent and on-going and persistent failure to provide financial disclosure.
Whilst some sentences are short, and designed to be a short, sharp shock to encourage compliance, senior Family judges have also demonstrated their willingness to use lengthy sentences where circumstances require it. Only this last week, a Father who together with his family, abducted his daughter from the UK to Egypt back in 2011, had his existing 21-month sentence extended by a further 6 months for his continuing failure to return her to England in accordance with various High Court Orders requiring her immediate return.
Cases such as this send an important message that Family orders are not the soft option and must be complied with. Other, more common penalties for failure to comply include costs orders, a form of community service and in children matters, change of residence.
There will be cases in which breach of an order is unavoidable for one reason or another. In those circumstances, it is important that correct procedure is followed and where necessary, an application made to court. Anyone who is likely to be in breach of an order is always advised to seek specialist legal advice, rather than assuming it will be “ok” as sanctions can be harsh and have long-term implications for the final outcome of the case.
By Family Law Solicitor Cara Nuttall.
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