A family court judge has granted a mother permission to take her children on holiday to Malaysia with her, despite the objections of her father.
In Re M and K, the mother was a Malaysian national who originally came to Britain to study and stayed on. The father, meanwhile, was a British citizen.
Their two children, referred to as ‘M’ and ‘K’, were born in 2007 and 2009 respectively. The family travelled out to Malaysia regularly to visit the mother’s family. On most occasions, the mother would go with the two girls first and the father would later follow “for as much time as his work would allow”.
The couple’s broke down and they separated in January 2013. The mother immediately applied for a non-molestation order against the father, making various allegations, while he countered with an application for contact. He claimed she had tried to alienate him from his children.
At the subsequent hearing, a judge rejected the most serious of her allegations about the father but did conclude that he had “anger management problems” and might benefit from help with his parenting skills, particularly “in relation to his boundaries and appropriate behaviour around the girls.”
These issues would need to addressed, declared the Judge, before any overnight visits with his children could be allowed. Although the Judge did not believe some of the mother’s claims, he did also not believe that the mother had deliberately tried to alienate the father from his daughters, saying:
“It is … clear to me that the mother is in fact trying to stop contact. She has always said that she considers contact to be important. Crucially, after nearly two years of separation and court proceedings, the children have maintained a positive view of their father, they enjoy contact. They do not appear to have been poisoned against him.”
The children should continue living with their mother, he ruled, but spent regular time with their father.
Later, after the mother had talked of plans to take the two girls to a family wedding in Malaysia this year, and the father told a court that he was worried she and the children would never return to the UK. A ‘prohibited steps’ order was issued, forbidding either parent from taking their children out of the country without court permission. The children’s passports were given over to the father’s solicitors.
But the mother was unhappy with the restriction and applied for it to be lifted. Sitting at the Family Court at East London, Her Honour Judge Carol Atkinson considered the positions of both parties.
The father continued to insist that the mother might not return from Malaysia if allowed to take the children to the family wedding. He cited the unfounded allegations made during the break-up as evidence of her intent to alienate him, and the mother’s reported interest in moving back to her native country during their marriage. He rejected the offer of a £5,000 surety, saying he did not believe even the loss of this sum would be enough to persuade the mother to come back.
But the mother herself was adamant, insisting the claims were unfounded. Judge Atkinson explained:
“The mother insists that she has absolutely no intention of not returning to the jurisdiction citing the fact that she is settled here and has been for many years, that her children are British and she wants them to be brought up here and most importantly she wants them to have contact with their father and paternal family.”
She accepted, she said, that keeping her daughters in Malaysia would have a big effect on their lives. The father had little respect for their Malaysian heritage, she argued.
The Judge concluded that the trip should go ahead, despite a small risk that the mother might behave as the father feared. She declared:
“I cannot assess the risk as zero, as the father invites because, as I have explained to him there is nothing in life that comes without risk. Nor indeed is it necessary to assess something as zero risk before it is a risk worth taking. Crossing the road comes with a risk but it does not stop us all taking that risk on a daily basis.”
Judge Atkinson added:
“The adverse consequences can be marginally reduced by the lodging of the security offered. Whilst this will not enable the summary return of the children it will, as I have said, provide an essential starter fund for any necessary litigation for this trip only.”
Read the ruling here.