Three months' jail for mother who kept child from his father
The Daily Telegraph, U.K. by Andrew Alderson, February 22, 2004,
A mother has been jailed for three months for refusing to give her former boyfriend access to their four-year-old son. It is believed to be one of the longest sentences given to a mother in a British dispute over child access.
The decision comes as the courts and the Government prepare to crack down on mothers who repeatedly ignore court orders giving fathers access to their children. It is rare for courts to jail single mothers who usually claim, through their solicitors, that their child would suffer if a judge imposed a custodial sentence.
The mother was jailed last week by a recorder at a county court in north Devon.
Neither the parents nor their child can be named for legal reasons.
In an interview with the Telegraph, the father, who represented himself to save money after spending more than 5,000 on legal bills for previous hearings, said that he regretted that his former girlfriend had been jailed, but said that she only had herself to blame. "I was shocked at the length of the sentence but I hope going to prison teaches her a lesson. I hope that she starts to behave properly when she leaves jail," he said.
The man, who is 45, said that his former lover had broken at least 18 contact orders allowing him to see his son. "In the end, I don't think the judge had any option but to take the action that he did."
The man, a builder, said he had seen his son - who is his only child - for only four one-hour meetings in two years, whereas he had hoped to see him twice a week. "It's been a terrible time for me. I love my son and want to spent quality time with him, but I have been prevented from seeing him for months on end."
The boy is now staying with his mother's parents and sees his father twice a week. The couple had lived together for a year, but split up six weeks after the boy was born in 1999. The man said that he had supported his son financially since the birth and contributed about 100 a month.
The man is a member of Families Need Fathers, a 3,000-member support group which campaigns to keep children in contact with both their parents. Jim Parton, a spokesman and former chairman for the group, said that he supported the recorder in Devon. "Judges aren't at all hesitant about jailing fathers and they shouldn't be hesitant about jailing mothers who flout the law.
"I welcome the fact that this woman has been jailed and hope there will be more ju.dges with the moral courage to follow suit.
"This will, in turn, result in mothers obeying court orders whereas at the moment court orders aren't worth the paper they are written on. Mothers flout them because they know that they will get away with it.
"Obviously it is regrettable for any parent to be sent to jail in what amounts to a domestic squabble, but ultimately judges have to use this option to uphold the law." It was revealed last week that, under new government proposals, parents who separate will be expected to agree to plans that give generous time with the children for both mother and father. The "early intervention" programme will be piloted later this year.
Stunts by angry fathers, including scaling buildings and bridges, have moved the issue up the political agenda. Last November a father dressed as Spider-Man spent six days up a crane near Tower Bridge in central London in a protest at lack of access to his daughter.
Bob Geldof, the singer, broadcaster and former Live Aid organiser, who underwent a bitter custody battle with his late wife Paula Yates over their three daughters, now campaigns for greater rights for fathers who are separated from their former lovers.
Mr Geldof was unaware of the circumstances of the case in Devon, but welcomed the recorder's stand. "If the law is to mean anything, court orders must be upheld. For too long they have been completely ignored when a court order should be a binding, legal obligation. Three months, however, appears to be harsh and I don't see how that can be in the best interests of the child.
"To deprive a child of his or her dad is a chronic child welfare issue. It is a form of child abuse which is finally being taken seriously by the courts. I think that it should be an absolute given that - man or woman - if you ignore a court order you should be arrested."
Mr Geldof said that he wanted the law changed and remodelled around the Danish system, under which parents are urged to ensure that children divide their time equally between both parents. Official figures show that nine out of 10 single-parent families in Britain are headed by women.
He believes the law assumes that women are automatically better at childcare than men, when in recent decades male and female roles have become more sturred.
Custody cases are almost always held in camera to protect the identity of the child. This means that there are few statistics available relating to their outcomes. Jailing mothers, however, is rare and, when it does take place, the sentences are usually only for a matter of days.
Families Need Fathers
Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.