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Zimbabwean-American girl placed into mother’s care

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The Family Court has placed the daughter of an American man in the care of her Zimbabwean mother.

In F judgment (No 2 welfare – approved), the girl’s parents met in Zimbabwe in 1996 and had a ‘customary marriage’. These are based on traditional African customs and are legally recognised in Zimbabwe. Unlike civil marriages, a customary marriage does not have a minimum age requirement nor does it exclude polygamy.

In 2010, the parents agreed to leave Zimbabwe. The father took the girl to South Africa shortly before flying to the United States to live with his mother in New York State. The mother also moved to South Africa with their two other children while pregnant with another.

She claimed that the agreed upon plan was for the father and his daughter, Amanda, to go ahead to America and, once there, arrange for the rest of the family to join them. The father claimed the agreement was for the parents to divide responsibility of the children between them.

As the father made no effort to assist the mother move to the United States, she was “left in South Africa with the two children, pregnant, penniless, and separated from Amanda”.

In 2012, the father took Amanda on a series of world trips. They visited Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and South Africa before returning to the United States for his mother’s funeral.

Their next trip was to England, where the father applied for British nationality. While in the country, Amanda and her father lived in a tent. When the father took Amanda to a hospital for a medical test, doctors called social services “out of concern for the child’s living conditions and the history given by the father”.

Amanda was placed into foster care shortly afterwards. Her parents separately sought her return to their care. Before a decision could be made regarding her living arrangements, the Family Court ruled that Amanda had no habitual residence due to her extensive travels with her father.

Sitting in the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mr Justice Peter Jackson said there was “no indication” that the mother was lying, whereas the father’s claim “reveals a man with grandiose and often irrational views”.

The judge added that under Section 31 of the Children Act 1989, care proceedings can be launched if there is a possibility that a child will suffer “significant harm”. He said that, in this case, the grounds for care proceedings were “abundantly made out”. In his view, Amanda’s “emotional, social and educational development had been and was likely to be impaired” as a result of her father’s care.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson concluded by ruling that Amanda should return to the care of her mother. Additionally, he ruled that the father should have no contact with her. The judge ordered that an interim care order be put in place until Amanda leaves England to reunite with her mother and siblings.

To read the full judgment, click here.

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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