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Judge rules that wife was “stranded” by husband

A High Court judge has ruled that a woman was stranded by her husband in a foreign country.

In L v M, the father was British, with a family background in a different country, referred to as ‘Country A’ in the judgement. The mother, meanwhile, was a national of the same country. Following an arranged marriage, the couple had lived in this country since 2003 and had two children.

In 2007, the couple returned to the foreign country for a visit. The wife claimed that her husband had told her that her mother was ill, while he insisted that she had been homesick and wanted to visit her family.

The children were left in England under the care of relatives.

On arrival in Country A, the father kept the mother’s passport, saying he was going off on business while she stayed with her family. However, when she tried to contact him a few days later she discovered that he had returned to England without her, taking her passport and travel documents.

At the High Court, Mrs Justice Theis said:

“According to the mother, she continued after that to make efforts to get back to England with the obvious intention of being reunited with her children. However, she had great difficulty doing so, due to lack of funding and relevant documentation.”

The mother eventually succeeded in returning in 2012. However, shortly before she arrived here, she discovered that the father, with whom she had no contact, had taken the children back to Country A, living there a period with his new wife, later travelling on to a third country. However, they were shortly due to return to the UK for a wedding and she successfully applied for a‘prohibited steps’ order to prevent them from leaving again.

Following various legal proceedings, the matter came before Mrs Justice Theis. The father had initially applied for the English proceedings to be ‘stayed’ (suspended) on ‘forum conveniens’ grounds – i.e. the claim that the foreign country was the most appropriate jurisdiction to hear the family’s case.

However he later abandoned this application after receiving legal advice and decided instead to simply apply for permission to remove the children from England on a permanent basis.

Mrs Justice Theis said:

“…whilst I accept that the mother did put some inaccurate information in her visa application and whilst there are some matters in the divorce pleadings that may not accurately reflect the position (which as I said, is not language that the mother would have used); I do not consider that these matters undermine her credibility.”

Following a detailed examination of the family circumstances, the judge declared:

“I am satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the mother was stranded in Country A due to the actions of the father in taking her there knowing that she did not have a valid visa to enable her to re-enter this country. He retained her passports and travel documents and, apart from limited efforts in 2008, has made no attempt to facilitate her return to this jurisdiction, or make any real effort to maintain her relationship with the children.”

Mrs Justice Theis concluded:

“The children are now left in a difficult position. On the face of the report by Cafcass they have been given limited, if any, information about their mother. They appear to have been well cared for physically, but in terms of their emotional development there are serious matters that require further investigation. They are under the impression that they cannot talk about their mother, but do not know why. One of the children is under the impression the mother ran away and she is not their mummy any more. The consequence of this is that there is now going to have to be some very sensitive work undertaken with the assistance of an experienced High Court Cafcass guardian, to help them understand who their mother is, why she was not able to care for them and to seek to restore their relationship with her. On any view, it is going to be a difficult journey for both the children and their mother.”

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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