A High Court judge has ruled that a nine year-old boy in England must be returned to his father in France.
The boy’s parents met in 1996 on the island of Réunion. Although it is located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, Réunion is part of France.
The couple never married but lived together in both Réunion, where their son, ‘B’, was born and in the south-western city of Bordeaux on mainland France. After they separated, the mother claimed that the father “was frequently verbally and physically violent to her” during their relationship. She also alleged that he was violent towards B but maintained that she did not press charges because the local police did not take domestic violence seriously.
The father “vehemently” denied the mother’s claims. He cited statements from the family’s doctor and B’s teacher in Réunion, who both said “they saw no evidence that the mother or B were the victims of physical abuse”.
In 2007, the parents separated and two years later a local court ruled that B should live with his mother but that the father should spend regular time with his son. This arrangement continued until December 2010, when the mother told the father she was taking B to see a Christmas tree at her workplace, but instead moved to New Caledonia. This is a French territory in the Pacific Ocean, located around 750 miles off the east coast of Australia. She admitted that this move was made without the consent of the father or the courts in Réunion.
Shortly after the move, the mother successfully petitioned the High Court in Réunion for permission to relocate to mainland France. In the same order, the father was granted access to B in mainland France during school holidays.
When the father sent a maintenance payment to an address the mother claimed she had moved to in a suburb of Paris, it was returned undelivered. He then contacted the French authorities to track down B and the mother. They were eventually found living in London, so the father applied for B’s return under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Mr Justice MacDonald heard the father’s application at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. He ruled that the mother had “deliberately sought to conceal the whereabouts of B from the father” from 2010 onwards, and that this had led him to “engage the authorities in a lengthy (and no doubt expensive) search”.
In Hague Convention cases like this one, the return of a child can be prevented if the parent who took them is able to establish that they are now settled in their new country. The mother made such a claim but the judge said this settlement was “built on an edifice of deliberate concealment”. He said that, as a consequence, the mother’s defence had failed and B must therefore return to France.
To read Re B in full, click here.