“But we agreed!” – What can happen when a parent contravenes orders that they agreed to.

A mother and grandmother were recently jailed after a judge decided they deliberately and willfully disobeyed court orders in relation to parenting arrangements for children.

The Judge imposed the jail sentence because of the seriousness of the actions of the mother and grandmother. Prior to the making of the Court order the mother alleged the father abused her psychologically and emotionally, as well as making death threats relayed to her through the children and posed a risk to the children. Notwithstanding the allegations the mother and the father resolved court proceedings by way of Orders providing the parties with equal parental responsibility for the children. The Orders provided for the children to live with the mother and to spend between 5 – 7 nights per fortnight with the father.

Within three months of the Court Orders being made, by consent between the parties, the mother disappeared with the children and remained in hiding for three years. The mother spent at least two of those years on the run, relying on friends and charity, changing the children’s names, moving residence every three months or so and leaving in the dead of night with the children hiding under blankets. The father spent three years trying to find the children.

The father issued an application for the recovery of the children and the Court made an Order that the maternal grandmother inform the Court if she knew the whereabouts of the children. It turned out, that when the children were finally found in 2018, that they and their mother had been living with the grandmother.

Both the mother and grandmother were charged with contempt of Court. The mother was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. The grandmother was sentenced to eight months imprisonment with a three-month suspension after serving three months in prison. The Court’s reasons were as follows:

  1. The actions of the mother and the grandmother were a “flagrant challenge to the authority of the Court”.
  2. The court did not accept the mother’s allegations of family violence.
  3. The actions of the mother and the grandmother denied the children the opportunity to have a continuing and developing relationship with their father.
  4. The actions of the mother (in particular), caused significant trauma to the children.
  5. Neither the mother nor the grandmother were particularly sorry for their actions, only sought to justify them.