The mother of a 15 month-old baby has been granted permission to move back to her South Africa by the Central Family Court in London.
In Re MM, both parents were South African nationals. They met and formed a relationship while still living in the country, later moving to the UK together for work. A few years later, the couple fell out and the woman returned to South Africa. They were reconciled in the 2008 however. She returned to the UK and the couple were married. Despite this, the relationship once again broke down after a few years. In August 2013, just two weeks after the birth of their son, ‘M’, the father left the matrimonial home.
He continued to see his son on a daily basis after the separation. He told his estranged wife that he was staying with parents, who lived in the UK too, and taking M to visit them. In reality, however, he had been involved with a work colleague for some time and was in fact taking M back to her house, where he too now lived.
The mother asked the father if he would agree to her taking M back to South Africa for the Christmas holidays. He did so, on the condition that she sign divorce papers.
When she returned, the father resumed regular contact with M. Shortly afterwards, however, the mother discovered the father’s relationship with his former work colleague. She boarded a plane and flew back to South Africa with M.
Following an application by the father, a English court ordered the mother to return and she did so in February last year. Later she applied for permission to permanently return to her native country. The father opposed this, arguing instead for overnight contact with his son.
Her Honour Judge Pearl ruled in her favour. Amongst other issues, she drew attention to aspects of the father’s behaviour: the fact that he had concealed his new relationship from both M’s mother and the family courts handling the case for a number of months for example. He had also not been honest about his finances with the mother and the courts, claiming he could not afford to pay for swimming lessons for M and failing to disclose a large payment from his employer. He also claimed he would not be able to travel to South Africa, exaggerating the cost of travel and understating his means.
The mother would be financially better off in South Africa, the Judge declared, with improved job prospects and a pension. She would be close to her family.
Her Honour Judge Pearl turned to the mother’s abduction of M. She declared:
“This was not child‑focused and the mother should not have taken him away as she did… However, this was a one-off incident where she lacked judgment. It was an impulsive reaction to sudden, unexpected, distressing news about the father but impulsive behaviour is not part of a pattern of the mother’s behaviour and the mother has expressed her proper regret for what happened.”
It was not inevitable that M would not lose contact with his father, she continued, as he could afford to visit three times a year and maintain indirect contact at other times.
Consequently, the mother’s application was in M’s best interests, the Judge ruled. She refused the father’s application for overnight contact.
Read the judgement here.
Photo of Johannesburg, South Africa by Samuella99 via Wikipedia