A four year-old boy must spend time with both his parents, the High Court has ruled.
The boy, ‘B’, was born in Herefordshire. The father, in his 50s, has been married four times, on the third occasion to B’s mother, a Chinese woman in her early 30s. They married in 2009 but had separated by 2012 and later divorced. The father, who lives in Surrey and suffers from an unspecified illness, has since had two more children – his fifth and sixth – with a Filipino national who lives abroad. He is unemployed and in receipt of benefits.
The mother, meanwhile, lives in central London. She came to Britain to study at university and met B’s father not long afterwards. It was an unhappy marriage and the mother began to neglect the baby, noted Mr Justice Peter Jackson in his ruling.
“…I do not suppose that she came to this country and married a British citizen with a life-long work record with the expectation that she would become the sole breadwinner, but that is what happened. The father says that soon after B’s birth the mother opted out of the marriage in favour of a single life. There is reference in the papers to some post-natal depression.”
When B was five months old the father asked social services to intervene and B was sent to live with him for a period afterwards. The mother was convicted of cruelty and neglect and also of failing to provide a specimen of breath “after an incident while driving”.
In September of that year, the father launched divorce proceedings but a shared contact was agreed.
In December 2013, the mother travelled back to China to visit her relatives with B. The father, unwell at the time, insisted that mother enter into a written agreement that she would return B to the UK.
She did so, but lost her job not long afterwards. The mother claimed that she was becoming disillusioned by life in the UK by this point and discussed the possibility of moving back to the China with B’s father and his new wife. But Mr Justice Peter Jackson concluded that there was little evidence to suggest she had really had such a discussion.
“I think that much the likelier situation is that the mother felt at the end of her tether and decided to do what she decided to do. What she decided to do was cruel. Without any notice to the father, she bought one-way tickets for herself and B, went to the airport on the 21st February 2014, parked the car in the short term car park and left for China.”
When the father found out what had happened, he began a “frantic series of communications”.
The Judge said:
“The mother’s response to that can only be described as callous. For example, when the father wrote, “I am his father. No idea why you have disappeared with him to the other side of the world. You need to bring him home”, the mother replied, ‘You tell me why.’ ”
She also claimed B was afraid of his father and didn’t want to see him.
Later the father himself moved to China, and had sporadic contact with his son while there. The mother’s family were hostile and on one occasion he was assaulted. The Judge declared:
“This is one feature that tells me that this was no agreed arrangement. Had the family been migrating by agreement, then there would have been regular contact. The mother’s behaviour at that time was designed to cut the father out of B’s life altogether.”
In December last year, the mother “no doubt thinking it was safe”, flew to England from China for a business trip. As a family court order against her was outstanding, her passport was seized. Following further months of litigation, B was then finally returned to the UK.
The mother has since been charged with child abduction and her case is moving forward. The Judge noted however:
“…the father has informed the Crown Prosecution Service that he does not wish to sponsor or support the prosecution of the mother because that would not be in B’s best interests.”
Mr Justice Peter Jackson agreed with this assessment but added:
“The Crown Prosecution Service has to consider the public interest and the deterrence of child abduction generally.”
B now spends the majority of his time with his father. The case returned to the courts, for a ruling on practical concerns, such as where he should go to school – in London or Surrey – and how much time he should spend with each parent.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson concluded that B should spend equal amounts of time with each parent but go to school in Surrey. He stressed the importance of arrangements that would allow B’s mother to feel settled in the UK for the long term.
The Judge also dismissed continuing claims by the mother that B’s father might be abusing him.
“I find that those concerns are groundless. There is no information at any stage in these proceedings to justify this allegation against the father. I dismiss it, not just for his benefit and B’s, but also for the benefit of the mother. She has worried about this and she has worried about it for long enough.”
The ruling Re B is here.
Photo of Beijing airport by Hector Garcia via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence