The teenage sons of a wealthy Russian industrialist should be allowed to move to Switzerland to live with him despite their mother’s reluctance, the High Court has ruled.
The boys in question were aged 15 and 13. Unsurprisingly their mother, with whom they’d been living, opposed the idea of the brothers moving to Switzerland.
In the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Jackson described the case as one in which:
“…it is not possible to produce a truly good outcome but only to choose the one which is least bad.”
The veteran judge added:
“In a case of this kind, where a family has every conceivable material advantage, it is easy to forget the old truth that money cannot buy you happiness. It certainly has not done for this family. Instead, the pursuit and accumulation of wealth that has created conditions that have left everyone spoilt for choice and thoroughly miserable.”
The family had spent nearly £1 million on legal wranglings to date he noted.
The family were Russians who had taken Cypriot citizenship, having spent years living on the island. The father worked in the oil business and had been so successful he was already considering retirement despite still being in his 40s.
By 2006 the marriage had broken down. Later she and the two boys came to England so they could attend private school.
The couple’s third and oldest child is now living in Moscow with his girlfriend and has fallen out with the mother.
The Judge explained:
“The children have grown used to the usual trappings of an opulent lifestyle, lavish homes, privileged schools, incessant international travel, being constantly surrounded by staff of one kind or another. I do not think that the boys (and perhaps the parents either) realise that this is a lifestyle lived only by a tiny minority of people who have a very particular and perhaps rather limited world view.”
Problems arose due to the father’s longstanding relationship with a woman referred to as ‘N’, who had previously worked for the family. The mother did not get on with N.
The father and N had a child and decided to move to Switzerland. But given the mother’s fraught relationship with N and wanting to project an upstanding image to his sons, he kept the birth a secret. Eventually he told his sons about the new child, ‘E’, but asked them to not to tell their mother. She only discovered the truth at the end of last year when she was told about E by her lawyers.
To quote Mr Justice Peter Jackson:
“Understandably, she was mortified that this knowledge had been kept from her while the boys had known about it for months. The way the father behaved was shabby. It pitted the boys against their mother just to make life easier for himself. He betrayed the mother’s trust in him as a parent.”
The boy’s relationship with their mother began to fray. They complained to their father about life in England, making exaggerated claims about her behaviour and suggesting they be allowed to come and live with him.
Meanwhile, they began to behave in a difficult way with her. The Judge contrasted the mother’s day-to-day role as a parent with the father’s approach.
“I do not accept the mother’s case that the father set out to incite the boys to come to live with him. I understand why she feels that way but in fact the father’s approach was of a different kind. He loves his children, but he was perfectly happy to let other people, and in particular the mother, do the day-to-day caring and for him to have lots of holiday fun time.”
The father may have been motivated by a genuine desire to help the boys but he had a taken a confrontational approach to the mother, encouraging the boys to take legal action against her.
Later, it was claimed the mother had agreed to the relocation during a meeting in September last year, but the Judge said there was no evidence for this claim. In addition, at the time she still knew nothing about E.
In April, a formal application for relocation was made, following arguments over school holiday contact.
Over the summer holidays the two boys spent all their time with their father on a visit to Moscow, ignoring a scheduled stay with their mother. The father did nothing to encourage them to see her, allowing them to develop the impression that she did not care about them.
An independent social worker assessed the boys, concluding:
“Given the strength of the boys’ feelings and wish to live with their father, I believe that there is no alternative but to agree to his application.”
This would be the best option for eventually repairing the boys’ relationship with their mother, she suggested.
The Judge granted the father’s application and allowed the brothers to relocate, subject to a number of conditions. These included a locally enforceable child arrangements order specifying time the brothers should spend with the mother; and additional financial support so the mother could establish a second home in Switzerland.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson concluded:
“The fact that the family has spent just shy of £1 million on these proceedings, proceedings of no particular complexity that only began in April, is fairly typical. This is not empty moralising. If the parents and children cannot return to a more considerate, a more normal way of behaving, the future is bleak…”
“I am not only speaking to the parents but also to the three children who are old enough in their own ways to do their bit to repair the damage that has been caused.”
You can read S v S in full here.
Photo of Nicosia, capital of Cyprus, by Kyriakos via Flickr