Ignore the court at your peril

In family cases, it is not unusual for people to simply ignore attempts to resolve matters. People ignore letters from their ex’s solicitor, perhaps in the hope that if they don’t respond, the ex will just give up. Some people therefore will find themselves as parties to court proceedings as their non-cooperation can only be addressed by getting a court order to resolve the dispute and to force them to do what they are supposed to do.

Most people will then start to comply, but there are some who still refuse to co-operate. This is very foolish. If a court orders you to do something, you are legally obliged to do it. The court’s orders can be enforced against you. Enforcement methods vary, but in extreme cases can result in a sentence of imprisonment. Ignoring the court is asking for trouble.

A recent example of this is the case of Cumbria County Council v A Mother & Ors. “James” applied to the Family Court for a child arrangements order in relation to his son “Ben” so that Ben’s mother “Amy” had to make him available to spend time with James. Amy very unwisely refused to take part in the proceedings, apart from cross-applying at an early stage for a non-molestation order against Ben, in which she made a rape allegation against James.  He was never charged with an offence as the police concluded that text messages between Amy and James indicated that it was consensual. Thereafter, Amy failed to turn up to court hearings about Ben on eight occasions over about six months. Eventually the local authority obtained a care order in relation to Ben, and he went to live with James.

Although Amy failed to turn up to court, she did email the court arguing that the court had no jurisdiction over her:

“We will not be attending your hearing today. This is because again the court has failed to provide us with evidence of the authority that grants them power to make demands of any man or woman. The threats we have received from yourselves and social services have been relentless, so we decided to visit the police station with all paperwork we have received, the paperwork that clearly states numerous times that there are no concerns regarding Ben.

“I must remind you that the police are public servants and are not lawfully permitted to get involved in civil matters, which they confirmed.  

“The police take an oath to uphold common law and protect the public, which they again confirmed. They do not take an oath to uphold Roman civil Law, otherwise known as Maritime Law. Acts Statutes and Legislation are not laws, they are corporate/government rules that apply to the legal fiction only, NOT a living man or woman.

“[…] The court and social services seem to believe that they, along with judges who are just civilians in black robes, have some type of special power that enables them to interfere in peoples lives and remove their property without their consent, you lawfully cannot. You are not above the law.”

On another occasion, Amy told a process server which was handing her legal documents that Ben had no birth certificate as if his birth was registered, he would be “owned by the government”.

Amy’s argument is a mish mash of legal incoherency. She later told the court that she had been badly advised. I find that easy to believe. I doubt that the email was actually drafted by Amy; it is more likely to have been drafted by whoever gave her this so-called “advice”. A psychological assessment later indicated that she was vulnerable to adverse influences from others. It seems likely that she was influenced by a follower of the so-called Freeman of the Land Movement or FOTL, which purports to reject the jurisdiction of governments and the law. There is a technical expression that we lawyers use to describe FOTL. It is what we call “utter rubbish”.

The court bent over backwards to give Amy a fair hearing. Numerous opportunities to attend court were provided to her at which she could have argued her case. She was warned repeatedly that if she failed to attend court, the court would make such order in her absence as it considered appropriate. For months on end, perhaps under an adverse influence, Amy refused to avail herself of these opportunities. She eventually started to co-operate and began to attend the later hearings, but by then the damage had been done. Ben had been placed with his father, who at the start of the case had only been in seeking contact with his son, and at that stage had been saying that Ben should live with Amy.

Amy’s refusal to come to court and espousal of legal gibberish is relatively unusual, but I have seen similar cases. I recall one where I acted for a father who made a perfectly reasonable application for contact with his son, only for the mother, unable to forgive him for the breakdown of their relationship, to then repeatedly fail to comply with contact orders. Eventually the court ordered a psychologist report to be obtained which indicated that the mother’s attitude towards the father and her refusal to allow the child to spend any time with him amounted to emotional abuse. The court ordered that the child live with the father, who at the start of the case had just sought alternative weekends with him. If the mother had been sensible at the start of the case, the child would still be living with her.

I find these types of case very depressing. I have lost count of the number of times that I am consulted by a young father whose relationship with his girlfriend has ended, and who is now not being allowed to spend time with his child. Attempts to resolve the dispute by negotiation or mediation are spurned by the mother so that the father has to apply to the Family Court for a child arrangements order. The application takes months to run its course, sometime years, during which time the father often does not get to see the child at all for a lengthy period. The mother often makes abuse allegations against the father. Sometimes these allegations are true and need to be addressed. Sometimes they are false or exaggerated. It is difficult to say how many are not true, but I suspect that false or exaggerated allegations are made in a significant minority of cases.

These cases often have similar characteristics. They frequently involve parents who are young and unmarried. They have low incomes and a basic education. They often have not been able to get legal aid to obtain early legal advice, so they adopt unrealistic positions. The mothers refuse to mediate. They cannot get legal aid, despite their low income, because legal aid is now only available to cover solicitor’s fees in cases where they are victims of domestic abuse. Even if they are eligible, they may struggle to find a legal aid lawyer.

Ignoring court orders is never a good idea. If you and your ex cannot agree, the court’s role is to make the decision for you both. It will make an order that it considers to be in the child’s best interests. It does not make these orders lightly. Once it has made its decision, you must do what the court says. If you don’t, things will simply get worse.

22 July 2023

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