The future of four Lithuanian children will be decided in England, a court has ruled.
In Re CK, the children were aged between 16 and three years of age. The mother’s husband was the father of the three youngest children and the whole family were Lithuanian citizens. In January last year, the mother abruptly left the family home in the middle of the night and travelled to England with the children.
She claimed the marriage was an abusive one. She had been encouraged to move to England by a woman referred to as ‘X’, a friend of her brother’s, who was in prison at the time. X provided the mother with money and helped with the travel arrangements. When the family group reached England, they stayed with X, her partner ‘Y’ and her son, ‘Z’.
Later the mother claimed that X had misled her regarding the living circumstances she would find in England and that if she had known the truth, she would have stayed in Lithuania when she left her husband.
Shortly after their arrival, the father contacted his wife and spoke to her and the children via Skype. Later he contacted the Lithuanian authorities and told them that his children had been taken abroad without his consent and that he was concerned for their welfare. The authorities had already been aware of some tension between the couple but there had been no serious concerns for the children.
The authorities contacted the mother in England and warned her that she was in breach of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In her response, she insisted that she had fled abroad to escape emotional and physical abuse by her husband.
The father was informed of his rights under the Convention, but chose not to make an application for the return of the children. Meanwhile, the mother formed a relationship with X’s son Z and the pair set up home together with the youngsters.
Earlier this year the Lithuanian authorities applied to the British courts, seeking to assume responsibility for the case under EU regulation 2201/2003, commonly referred to as Brussels II Revised. This governs jurisdiction in family cases involving more than one member state and Article 15 sets out conditions for the transfer of cases “to a court better placed to hear the case”.
Sitting in the family court sitting at Newcastle Upon Tyne, Mr Justice Moylan noted:
“The Lithuanian Central Authority has made it clear that they seek a transfer of jurisdiction under Article 15. It is their view that the Lithuanian authorities are better placed, and that it would be in the children’s best interests for them, to hear this case. In summary, they point to the children’s connections with Lithuania, to the connections which these proceedings have with Lithuania…”
The mother and her local authority, meanwhile, argued that the children were now ‘habitually resident’ (resident for legal purposes) in England that therefore the children’s future was best decided by the family courts in this country. The youngsters were now settled in the UK and the older children attended school here.
The Judge accepted the latter arguments, declaring:
“Weighing all the factors present in this case, I am satisfied that the children were habitually resident in England and Wales when the proceedings commenced in April 2015. Their residence here had clearly acquired the necessary quality of stability and reflected a significant degree of integration.”
The children would inevitably continue to live in the UK as the case progressed anyway, the Judge continued, as there was insufficient evidence to conclude that a return to Lithuania would be in their best interests.
Read the report here.