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Using Harassment Law to enforce contact

24 July 2010 552 views No comments

An alternative approach if the other parent unreasonably stops you seeing your children.

Bring a private prosecution for harassment.

Too often it is the innocent party in domestic disputes who ends up on the wrong side of the law.

Take this common example:

A father comes home from work to find his partner has left and has taken their children. Beside himself with anxiety, he texts her again and again, asking where his children are, are they safe, and when and how he will see them? Shortly afterwards, he is arrested and charged with harassment for sending these text messages.

Most people would think that stopping someone seeing their children is a more serious form of harassment than sending text messages asking where they are, and this view would find some support in the Protection from Harassment Act. The Act’s definition of harassment includes a course of conduct which someone carries out, without justification, knowing it will cause distress to another. As such, taking someone’s children away and denying them contact without good reason would certainly seem to be a form of harassment. However, the reality is that the Police are more inclined to see the text messaging as harassment than the denial of contact.

The father can then find himself on the back foot when he comes to apply to a Family Court for contact with his children. The harassment charge, being a form of domestic abuse, may lead to his contact with his children being limited until investigations are completed into whether contact is safe, by which time his bonds with his children may have been permanently damaged. As for the distress caused to the father, that is outside of the Family Court’s remit, whose sole concern is for the welfare of the children.

What can be done? One option is to bring a private prosecution against the mother for harassment by denial of contact. If successful, it can provide an evidential basis for asking the Family Court not to trust her with sole care of the children in future, and instead to make a shared residence order, or to order sole residence to the father.

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