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Daughter of troubled US woman ‘habitually resident’ in the UK

The four year-old child of an American mother and Moroccan father is ‘habitually resident’ in the UK, the High Court has concluded.

In London Borough of Hackney v JC and Others, the child in question is now four. Referred to in the judgement as ‘SR’, she was taken into care in 2013 after being rushed to hospital in Hackney, east London. She had lost consciousness.

In the High Court, Mr Justice Hayden noted:

“There is no doubt that this was a serious and potentially life threatening episode.”

Doctors discovered swelling and bruising in different parts of the girl’s body. Subsequent enquiries by social workers and the police established that the girl had suffered “significant harm” as a result of the “excessive physical restraint” used by her mother. When she later admitted “inappropriate chastisement”, the mother was arrested, and when bailed, forbidden from having unsupervised contact with her daughter.

The girl was initially placed with her foster carers under a police protection order, then under the authorisation of the Children Act 1989. Section 20 of the latter requires local authorities to provide accommodation for children who cannot be cared for by their parents.

SR’s father lived in his native Morocco. Her mother, meanwhile, was diagnosed with a number of personality disorders concerned with antisocial behaviour and social dependency.

Care proceedings began but question marks arose over the question of whether or not SR was in fact ‘habitually resident’ in England. If she was not, the English courts would not have jurisdiction over her. She had been born in the Moroccan town of Chefchaouen, where her parents lived before their separation and the mother’s subsequent return to England.

Although a US citizen by birth, the mother had, explained Mr Justice Hayden, developed “roots” in England after first travelling here to attend university. Following a restless period, she had come to regard Britain as her home and had been keen for her daughter to gain British citizenship, he added. During her time in Morocco she had made no effort to learn Arabic or to improve her command of French, which is also spoken in the country. The mother had travelled back to the UK frequently with SR and had given no indication of plans to settle permanently in the north African nation.

The Judge therefore concluded:

“For most of the time SR’s mother has been her entire social and family environment; as such I find that her own habitual residence is and has been throughout her life, like that of her mother, the United Kingdom.”

Read the judgement 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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