Failure to obey a contact court order found as contempt

A mother has been found in contempt of court because she deliberately and wilfully refused to obey a court order for the father to have direct contact with their eight-year-old child.  Sheriff Welsh found her in contempt following a three-day proof hearing in Edinburgh Sheriff Court in July 2021.

No immediate penalty was imposed for this contempt at the request of the father’s solicitor, but the Sheriff stated to the mother and her new husband that “… if further orders of the court are not obeyed they could both be brought before the court and face being committed to prison for contempt for up to 90 days.”

Sheriff Welsh also commented that “The conduct of A [the mother] in this case abetted by M [her new husband], in my view, gives organisations like Fathers for Justice and Families Need Fathers a good name because what is going on here is A and M are alienating D from her father. Throw into the mix the terrible systemic problems caused to court process and the management of cases during a pandemic, including the necessary closure of contact centres on public health grounds and it is even worse.”

The contact order that was not obeyed (obtempered) in this case was made after a five-day proof in early 2019.  In subsequent hearings in Edinburgh Sheriff Court various matters were heard by seven different sheriffs.  The case has actually been in court for six years.

As noted in our item about a previous contempt finding, the use of contempt of court in a failure to obey a contact order requires various legal tests to be met. There must be a deliberate lack of respect for or defiance of the authority of the court.  Because the penalties for contempt are severe, sentencing may be suspended on condition that the contact actually takes place. In this case there was a finding of contempt but no sentencing for punishment, although there was stern warning of what could happen if the contact does not take place.