The High Court has ordered the return of a 13 year-old boy to his father in Ireland despite his insistence that he did not wish to go.
The teen had lived with his father in the Republic since December 2011, then travelled to London to stay with his mother over Christmas last year. He had been due to return on January 4 but did not do so.
The father launched proceedings under the Child Abduction and Custody Act, which incorporates the provisions of international treaty the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
In February, A was made a party to the ongoing proceedings and was given the opportunity to meet presiding judge Sir Peter Singer, in the presence of his solicitor and a Cafcass officer.
The boy, referred to as ‘A’, insisted that he did not want to go back to Ireland, supporting his mother’s claim that doing so would expose him to risk or place him an “intolerable situation”- an allowable defence under the Convention. However, both A and his mother admitted that his failure to return had constituted ‘wrongful retention’ under Article 3. The mother was adamant that the decision had been A’s alone.
The family had previously been embroiled in courtroom proceedings, back in 2012 was A was nine. As a result, he was sent to Ireland to live with his father and his paternal grandparents. His legal guardian later visited A and concluded that he was settled and doing well. He seemed well looked-after and confirmed that he wanted to stay with his father.
The parents separated in 2007.
Meanwhile, his older brother B spent time with foster carers before going back to live with his mother where he remains. He opposed the decision in 2012 to send A to Ireland.
In the High Court Sir Peter explained however:
“The facts established in the course of the proceedings demonstrated a number of serious deficits in her ability safely and appropriately to manage her sons’ upbringing. There was a series of well-documented incidents over some years when she became completely unable to cope and where the histrionics, the hysteria and the emotional firestorms set raging by her inappropriate tendency to turn to alcohol for support at times of stress directly threatened the children’s emotional and indeed their physical well-being.”
She had been diagnosed with ‘borderline personality disorder featuring emotional instability’. She appeared to lack insight into the nature of her problems and instead blamed the local authority and courts for her family’s problems.
Both the brothers had been highly influenced by the mother’s view of events, and were “adamantly supportive” of her claims. A had become convinced that he was to blame for the intervention of social services and the upset this had caused his mother, but the presiding judge in 2012 had been entirely convinced that it had been the mother’s parenting style which led to the disruptive behaviour and emotional difficulties both boys had displayed.
Despite the difficulties, the mother and father agreed on regular unsupervised visits, and A regularly travelled back to London to stay with his mother. However, his behaviour began to deteriorate following a visit last summer. The father’s attempts to discipline him after trouble at school led to further problems and their relationship became frayed. The father allegedly hit him, but the details reported by A varied.
The Judge said he had to bear in mind:
“… the obvious hypothesis … that motive for exaggeration was at least to hand if not in his mind. In the case of a 13-year-old it would not be surprising if his recollection of incidents differed from one narration to another…”
In the circumstances the father promised that if A were to return to Ireland, he would initially stay with his grandparents only, until the Irish authorities had fully assessed the situation and endorsed the family’s circumstances.
Sir Peter expressed his concern at some of the comments made by A:
“One must take into account the potential seriousness of some of A’s assertions as to his behaviour and attitude if his return to Ireland is ordered. These range through claimed risk or intention on his part that he might or would self-harm or inflict injury on F and on his grandparents, through to running away and preferring placement in foster care to any return to live with his father.”
“One has to wonder how such extreme responses have been evoked in him. They reflect quite strikingly the sort of thing B would express, at the time of the 2012 proceedings, if his preference that he and A should continue living with M were not to be the outcome.”
But a return to Ireland would mean a return to a school in which he had been making progress, the Judge continued. Further problems were best resolved within the Irish family courts. And if he remained with his mother in London, there was a distinct risk of further chaotic incidents of the kind which had prompted the problems in 2012.
Sir Peter concluded:
“I cannot afford full credit to the account A has given, nor indeed to the strength with which he has said he opposes return. He is clearly still operating upon the basis of a narrative which Ms Roddy describes him as having constructed, supported in its unreality by both [the mother] and B, that he and [the mother] suffered a serious injustice in 2011 and 2012 perpetuated at least in part by [the father]’s application for him to move to live with him in Ireland, supported by lies about [the mother] peddled to the court by the local authority.”
Read FK v ML here.