A nine year-old boy should be allowed to travel abroad with his mother describe her acrimonious relationship with his father, a Judge has ruled.
In the Family Court sitting at Oxford, Her Honour Judge Vincent described ‘A’ as “a happy, intelligent boy, who enjoys school and is popular with his classmates.”
His father is British and his mother comes from a country not specified in the judgement. They met and married there while his father was spending time in the country for his work as an anthropologist. The couple later settled in the UK. A was born in February 2008 so will celebrate his 10th birthday next month.
According to the mother, the marriage had run into serious problems by 2010, the year she petitioned for divorce. Judge Vincent noted:
“It is to the credit of each of A’s parents that they have to a large extent shielded their son from their disputes, but they have nonetheless been locked in profound conflict with one another for all the years since their separation.”
Such was the acrimony that in 2011, a Judge ordered the former couple to use “their best endeavours” to try and resolve future disputes through mediation and resort to further courtroom clashes only as “a last resort”.
The same judge ordered the mother to make A available for a programme of overnight, weekend and school holiday contact with his father.
The contact agreement allowed both parents to take A abroad for holidays, with the additional provision that they could suspend the usual visiting schedule for a limited period of time during those holidays. A’s mother’s planned visits to ‘Country X’, as her home nation was referred to in the judgement. In relation to these, explained Judge Vincent:
“…it is noted that the mother would notify the father about holidays no later than a month in advance, ‘although if it is anticipated that if a lengthy holiday is planned to Country X (for example) the mother will be able to provide a longer period of notice.’ “
These visits took place annually. In 2013 the mother and A went to Country X twice, for a total of eight weeks.
Later that same year, she raised the possibility of she and A relocating to Country X permanently. The father responded by applying for A to live with him instead and for a ‘prohibited steps’ order forbidding the mother from taking their son out of the country without permission. A Judge granted the latter but not the former.
Later, she did make an application for permanent relocation but permission was not granted. Further courtroom hearings followed as the parents continued to dispute holiday and travel arrangements.
By autumn last year the father had applied again for a child arrangements order that would see A living primarily with him. He later softened this to a formal shared care arrangement, with A spending approximately equal amounts of time with both parents. This arrangement would reflect the reality of the situation he insisted: the mother had started her own fashion business and travelled abroad regularly, which meant A had already begun to spend roughly equal amounts of time with his father, albeit informally.
Meanwhile, she wanted leave to take A to Country X for the entire school holidays. Consideration of these cross applications dragged into this year due to various delays. It was not until November that Judge Vincent considered the matter in full.
In a lengthy, detailed judgement, she rejected the father’s application, saying:
“A has a loving and established relationship with both parents. They live relatively close to one another and to his school. His relationship with his father is secure and stable. There is no obvious need for him to divide his time up in the way proposed in order to improve the relationship.”
“Having regard to all the factors on the welfare checklist, the evidence given by both parents and having particular regard to the recommendations of the Cafcass officer, my conclusion is that the term-time contact should remain as it is. There is no obvious benefit to a change and in my judgment it carries with it a risk of confusion and further conflict which would be harmful to A.”
The mother’s application was, however, accepted. The Judge accepted that Country X was not a Hague Convention-country, and therefore it would be very difficult to retrieve A if the mother abducted him, but she believed that the chances of her doing so were extremely low.
Lengthy visits to Country X would, she wrote:
“…would afford him the opportunity to share adventures with her, to have fun with her and for her to be recognised as an equal parent to his father, equally trusted to keep him safe. In particular in travelling to Country X he would experience a rich Country X cultural and family life, re-establishing relationships with grandparents, cousins, aunties and uncles, and learning about his cultural heritage. I agree with EB, that this is very important for him as he builds his identity as a British child of mixed heritage.”
You can read B v C in full here.