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Court refuses return of three year-old to mother

A three year-old girl should not be sent back to New York to live with her mother, the High Court has ruled.

The toddler was born in March 2013, following a brief but “intense” affair when her French father visited New York on a business trip. The parents had first met some years previously when the father lived in the iconic East Coast city for a period. When the father flew in for his visit, he contacted a number of old friends, including the mother, and they spent several days together.

After the father’s return to France, the mother discovered she was pregnant. By the time the mother told the father, however, he had begun a new relationship. Nevertheless the pair attempted to reach an agreement regarding the coming baby.

At the High Court, Mr Justice Hayden explained:

“The mother and father met in New York in 2012 to try to forge plans for the baby. In her evidence the mother told me that she felt down and dispirited during the course of her labour. This was ‘not what she had planned for’ herself, it interrupted her education. She felt isolated and alone. Though she did not say so expressly, I sensed that she was disappointed by the fact of the father’s new relationship.”

Following the birth of ‘B’, the mother began to have problems. She fell out with her own mother and sent the father wild messages saying the Social Security Administration was trying to take her baby away. Mr Justice Hayden notes:

“In her evidence the mother presented as a psychologically fragile personality. It was clear that she found life as a single mother very difficult to cope with.”

In late 2014 she travelled to France with her daughter, although she barely afford the airfare. By that time, however, the father had moved to London, a fact described by the Judge as “particularly strange”. He helped the mother apply for a French passport for the child and there following a lengthy period of erratic travelling for the baby between France, Italy, London and Senegal, the father’s birthplace.

Eventually, toward the end of last year, B went to live with father in London full time and the mother returned to New York. But then, not long afterwards, the mother applied for the daughter’s “summary return”.

The father opposed the application on the grounds that by July of this year, B was no longer habitually resident – resident for legal purposes –  in New York and therefore not subject to return. He argued that the mother had agreed to B remaining in London with him.

Mr Justice Hayden reflected on the complicated relationship that had developed between the mother and father. She had apparently harboured the hope that they might get back together despite the father’s new partner, and this caused some tension and jealousy.

The Judge believed the father was the more grounded and organised of the two.

“It is…clear from the text messages [between the parents] that it is the father who tries to keep B’s needs in focus. It is he who repeatedly enquires about ‘getting her stuff’ organised and whether she needs rest between journeys. It is the father who brings up important topics such as educational provision and opportunities for B to socialise. In her evidence the mother construed this as criticism of her parenting, it was not. When the father wanted to take B to meet his parents in Senegal he repeatedly pressed the mother on the need for injections. She largely avoided the father’s request. He told me that she did not consider they were necessary, preferring to rely on her holistic medicine. Fortunately for B the father was able to prevail.”

He continued:

“As the evidence progressed it became very clear to me that it was the father who was most consistently identifying B’s broad spectrum of needs. I was left with a persistent sense that the mother struggled to understand them. The father I found has given B a real sense of her identity. He told me she speaks English, French and Fullani, his African dialect. He told me that she sings some French songs, though not very many yet. He has lived at the same address in London since B arrived. She has her own bedroom, decorated as she wishes. The father has also been in a stable relationship which itself will have contributed to B’s sense of security.”

He came to the “firm conclusion” that B was had become habitually resident in London and consequently refused the mother’s application.

Mr Justice Hayden also noted that:

“Another striking fact of this case is that both parent’s call their child by a different name. The father was asked…whether he thought that was a bad thing for his daughter. He responded that he had come to realise, during the course of these proceedings, that other people might think this was a bad idea and he volunteered, in future, to call his daughter by the mother’s chosen name.”

Read the ruling 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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