The parents involved in an acrimonious residence dispute have been criticised by a High Court judge for failing to put their son’s interests above their own.
In WX v YZ, a Polish couple met in the US and moved to England, where their son, now four, was born. He ran the family business while she looked after the child. Their relationship came to an end but they continued living in the same home for a period.
The mother continued visiting Poland regularly to visit her family but when the relationship ended the father began to insist that she sign understandings to return his son to England after a certain period. On a number of occasions she left the boy in Poland with her parents while she returned to England for work. On those occasions her mother brought the boy over to England afterwards. On one occasion she took the boy over to her parents in Poland and left him there for a holiday, doing so without the father’s knowledge.
The parents argued over taking their son to Poland over Christmas 2011. As the father’s name was on the birth certificate, he had parental responsibility and the mother could not therefore take him out of the country without his permission, but she did so anyway, upsetting the father, who was now unable to give his son his Christmas presents.
The mother returned to England on January 8, leaving her child with her parents in Poland. Shortly afterwards he contracted a serious medical condition, requiring an extended stay in hospital, and subsequently did not return to England for 15 months.
While the treatment was underway, the mother launched proceedings in the Polish courts seeking significant parental responsibility for herself and diminishing the father’s rights, but she did so without telling the father.
Later the father, impatient with his son’s continuing presence in Poland, successfully launched proceedings under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The court ordered that his son be promptly returned to him. The order to take the boy from his primary carer and give him over to this father, whom he had only seen a few times over the previous 15 months, was reportedly prompted by the mother’s declaration that she wanted to keep the boy in Poland. She unsuccessfully appealed.
In his High Court judgement, Mr Justice Bodey described the handover:
“On 2nd April 2013 the parties arranged for the father to collect [the child] from the mother at the maternal grandparent’s house in Poland. It sounds as though it was an event full of difficulty and anxiety for everyone…. When the handover had taken place, the mother was so concerned about what she saw as [the child’s] evident anxiety that she telephoned the father to ask him to wait for her so that she could travel back to England with [him] too. She says, and I accept, that the father said that he was driving, and would ring her back; but that he never did so. Thereafter she was unable to get hold of him. She decided that she must come to England anyway and got a ticket, via Berlin, being the first available flight. On arrival in England on the evening on the 2nd April 2013, she was unable at first to find the father’s address and she got the Police to help her. She also arranged for her sister to try to contact the father to say that she (the mother) was coming.
The following morning, 3rd April 2013, the mother attended at the father’s property. There was something of a confrontation…and the Police were called.”
Later, the father, after taking the boy to nine separate examinations, claimed that the boy had said he was sexually abused by his grandmother while in Poland. The mother filed for the boy to be returned to her care and also sought a ‘prohibited steps’ ordr, which would prevent either parent from taking their child out of the country. She alleged the father had taken his son to excessive and unnecessary medical examinations, while he claimed that she was an alcoholic.
A ‘fact finding’ hearing was ordered, to establish the facts of the dispute. Mr Justice Bodey concluded that:
“There is no doubt that each party loves [their child] very much and wants the best for him. They differ as to how that can best be achieved. Any objective observer of this hearing would also conclude that there are respects in which each party has behaved reprehensibly in his or her role as parent…and put his/her needs above those of [their son]. This, unfortunately, is so often the way when relationships break down and when the hurt and anger of the parents overtakes their ability see or act upon the best interest of the child.”
The father had failed to prove that sexual abuse had taken place, the judge said, but he may genuinely have believed the claim.
“I do not consider that the father or his family have deliberately fabricated the things which they understood [the child] to have been saying. This is more likely to have had its origin in a context and dynamic of high emotion and anxiety, arising out of which some things said by [the son] were innocently misconstrued and given sinister interpretations, until the adults’ anxieties became self-fulfilling.”
“ Both parties have, in different ways, failed to put [their son’s] interests above their own. The combined totality [of the parents’ actions] is likely to have caused him some emotional harm. This is likely to continue, unless the parents can with a huge effort draw some kind of a line and look to the future, rather than the past.”