Internal child abduction, child support and more

Family Law|October 28th 2016

A week (or so) in family law

I’m going to begin with a case that was actually decided last week, but I failed to mention here in my weekly review last Friday. I did, however, mention it here in this post earlier this week. It is important, because it contains clarification from the Court of Appeal regarding the difficult issue of a parent ‘abducting’ a child and taking them to a different part of the country, without the other parent’s consent. In the case, Re R (Child), the mother took the child from Kent, where the family home was situated, to the North-East, where her family lived. The father asked the court to order the mother to summarily return the child to Kent, in a similar way to how, in an international child abduction case to which the Hague Convention on Child Abduction applies, a court would order the summary return of the child to its ‘home’ country. However, the Court of Appeal held that there was no principle in an internal ‘abduction’ case that the child should be summarily returned – the issue should be decided simply upon the basis of what was best for the child’s welfare. Here, the court had found that the child’s welfare would be best served by him remaining with the mother in the North East.

Moving on, a High Court judge has ordered that a seven-year-old boy who was “living life entirely as a girl” should be removed from his mother’s care, after finding that she had caused him “significant emotional harm”. Mr Justice Hayden said that the mother had been “absolutely convinced” that the boy “perceived himself as a girl”, and was determined that he should be a girl. However, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist concluded that the child “very clearly identifies himself as a boy”. The boy is now living with his father, where he is said to have settled well. Mr Justice Hayden was also critical of local authority social services staff responsible for the boy’s welfare, saying that “flares of concern” had been sent from a “whole raft of multi-disciplinary agencies”, and that he could not understand why so many concerns had been “disregarded so summarily” by social services staff, who had “moved into wholesale acceptance that [the boy] should be regarded as a girl”.

On a lighter note, at least to those not directly involved, a Russian court has ordered that a divorcing couple’s house should be divided in half by the erection of a brick wall, rather than making the somewhat more conventional order for the property to be sold and the proceeds divided equally. As reported here, the decision has unsurprisingly caused major problems, including the wife being unable to access the upper floor, as the only stairs in the property were in the husband’s half. Now, one might expect that such an order was unique, but over the years I have come across at least two similar cases, both occurring in New York. Still, at least it beats sawing the house in two, as a husband in Cambodia once did.

Single parents in parts of the UK are owed millions of pounds in unpaid child maintenance, according to a new study by the single parent charity Gingerbread. They say that more than £6 million is owed in areas of West Yorkshire, Milton Keynes, Grimsby, Telford and Nottingham. The areas of the country with the lowest average maintenance arrears were London, Sheffield and the Outer Hebrides. The Child Support Agency (‘CSA’) was doing less to collect debts as it winds down, with its work being transferred to the new Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’), Gingerbread claims. The report said that the average child maintenance debt owed to more than a million families who use the CSA is over £2,000. Fiona Weir, chief executive of Gingerbread, commented: “The failure of the CSA to collect these millions of pounds of child maintenance means that children are going without and single parents have been left poorer… The CSA and its successor the CMS should be doing all they can to ensure that families get the financial support they are owed. They have many powers at their disposal but in reality both are slow to act when parents don’t pay and single parents are left shouldering the costs of raising a child alone.” Quite.

And finally, the prize for the shortest marriage of the week must go to the Saudi groom who divorced his bride just two hours after the (briefly) happy couple celebrated their nuptials. Apparently, said groom was not pleased that said bride committed the heinous crime of posting photos of said nuptials on Snapchat. Quite why he wanted to keep the great event secret from the world of social media, we are not told.

Have a good weekend.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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