IN what has been described as “a highly unusual” move, a Limerick mother was handed down a prison sentence for failing to allow her children’s father access to them.
The father and his solicitor had to be escorted by court service staff out a side door of a Limerick courtroom and down a back stairs because of angry scenes and outbursts at the hearing of the case.
When the gardai arrived they cleared the courtroom.
“The net issue was that the mother didn’t allow the father access to the children but there were other factors at play,” said a legal source.
“She was sentenced to seven days’ imprisonment for breach of undertaking. She had undertook that she would allow access. It is under appeal. There was consent to bail so she is not in prison.”
According to a legal experts, the sentencing of a mother in such circumstances “would be highly unusual and rarely happens.”
“It would be unusual because people generally change their mind when they are threatened with jail,” a legal source explained.
“I have seen fathers be incarcerated for short periods. It is for contempt of court - you are ordered to allow access to your child or to give child support or maintenance or to stay away from the home or visit the home. Of course the court gives lots of chances and encouragement to make things easier because it is a very difficult situation but if you continue to refuse reasonable requests by the court, you will be held in contempt. It would be very unusual but it does happen from time to time.”
Joe Wallace of Familes – a support and information group for families, and men experiencing separation – said that the problem of parents, particularly men, being denied access to their children is something they frequently encounter.
“It is generally dads we deal with because the mum is usually the main parent in these situations. Men are going into court every week looking first of all to get access to see their children. Even though they may have a court order saying they are entitled to see their children at a specified time, these orders are being broken continually by a fair amount of moms which is very, very wrong because they are using their children as a battering ram for the want of a better word to hurt the other party,” said Mr Wallace who is chairman of Familes which is located on Fr Russell Square near the railway station in the city.
“They are actually destroying their children’s relationship with their father. Kids deserve to have two parents in their lives. We would have a fair amount of people coming in looking for information asking ‘how do I go about this - how do I sort out denial of access’. It’s one of the bigger parts of the work we do – helping guys to see their children. It’s a sad reflection on society that they have to come to someone else to get advice and help.”
Mr Wallace said the legal system “is a minefield and it’s the same for the moms as well going into court for the first time. “People have the right to separate with some degree of dignity without having to go into court to do all this stuff but, unfortunately, that is what you have to do.
“I know some men who haven’t seen their children for four or five years because of continual denial of access.”