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High Court orders return of teenager to France

The High Court has ruled that a 13 year-old girl living in England must return to France.

The girl’s mother was English and her father was French. They married in 1996 and lived in the English countryside until 2007 when they relocated to northern France with their two daughters, ‘S’ and ‘R’. By this time S – the focus of this case – was four years old.

Unfortunately, the parents’ marriage broke down in 2015 and the father began divorce proceedings early this year. The day after he filed his petition there was an undisclosed incident at the family home which led the police to suggest that the mother should move to a local hotel for a few nights with her daughters.

In early March the mother took S and R with her to England, where they have stayed ever since. The girls began attending English schools and had “minimal contact” with their father following the move.

While R was adamant about remaining in England, the father applied to the court for the return of S under the Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985 in conjunction with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

At the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mr Justice Cobb said that the mother did not deny that taking the children to England was wrong, but contested the application nonetheless. She claimed that S did not want to return and that she was old enough for that view to be taken into consideration. However, she said that she would also return to France if S had to.

Speaking to a Cafcass officer, S said that while she did indeed wish to remain in England, she hoped that her father would “seek her full-time care” if she had to return as that would “prove to her that he loves her”. Additionally, she said spoke fondly of her time in France, said that she missed her French friends and had found starting school in England difficult.

The judge also noted that the mother did not “describe any unsatisfactory aspect of life in France for the children before her departure” and that the father had offered her financial assistance if she returned with S.

Mr Justice Cobb concluded that, on balance, a return order was the best option. He said that the relationship between S and her father needed to be re-established but felt confident about this having seen messages and cards between them indicated that they had at one time been “extremely close and loving”.

The judgment is available in full online. Read it here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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