Mother faces jail over child

2008-07-03 00:00

A young Pietermaritzburg mother will tomorrow face the prospect of periodical imprisonment if she again fails to comply with a court order to hand her 19-month-old son over to his father for the weekend.

In terms of an existing access order granted by the court, the child must spend alternate weekends from 9 am on Saturday to 5 pm on Sunday with his father.

The couple, married under Islamic rites, apparently separated before the baby’s birth.

The father has complained that his wife has repeatedly obstructed his right of access to their child.

In a letter the woman addressed to the judge and left with the registrar of the high court last Friday, she said she is opposed to the baby spending the night with his father at his “tender age”, as he is still partly breastfed.

A suitable age for an overnight stay recommended by experts, she said, is four years old.

She said that the child sleeps with her, and does not even stay overnight with her parents, to whom he is accustomed.

Acting Judge Barry Skinner yesterday sternly warned the young woman against ignoring another court order, and urged her and the child’s father to take into account the undoubted effect their acrimony is having on the baby.

Judge Skinner said the woman already has a suspended sentence (of 30 days’ imprisonment) hanging over her head, which he granted on June 13, also for contempt of court.

Judge Skinner granted a second urgent order last Friday in terms of which the woman had to show cause yesterday why she should not be found guilty of contempt of court (for denying the father access to the child as ordered by Judge Nic van der Reyden on February 1), and why she should not be sentenced to periodical imprisonment for a total of 960 hours on weekends when the father has access to the baby.

Oral evidence to finally decide this matter will be led in October.

In the meantime, Judge Skinner ordered that the mother is to bring her son to a specified neutral venue on alternate weekends — starting this Saturday — to hand over the baby to his father and to collect him again on the Sunday evening.

If she fails to comply, he ordered that she shall be arrested “forthwith” and kept in custody until 5 pm on Sunday while the baby’s father cares for the child.

He ordered the police to locate the mother and child if she does not turn up, to arrest her and deliver her to the New Hanover prison.

Her parents — who have also been accused of obstructive conduct and who allegedly refused to accept service of court papers on behalf of their daughter from the deputy sheriff — have been joined as respondents in the case.

Judge Skinner has granted an interim order against the couple, restraining them from in any way “aiding, abetting, instigating or encouraging” their daughter to contravene the court orders, or obstructing the baby’s father from exercising his right of access to the child.

ingrido@witness.co.za

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