I’ve often written here about the international nature of family law these days, with families regularly crossing international borders. And sometimes, as we will see, those borders can be re-crossed on numerous occasions, which can lead to further difficulties when it comes to ascertaining the intentions of the family members.
And so it was in the recent child abduction case RV v VT, which was decided by Her Honour Judge Jessica Pemberton in the High Court.
The chronology of the case was as follows:
- The parents met and began a relationship in Latvia, in 2009.
- The child, a boy, was born in Latvia in 2014.
- In October 2014 the family moved to stay with the mother’s brother, who lived in England. The mother claimed that this was a decision to relocate permanently to the UK, but this was denied by the father.
- The parents’ relationship broke down, and they separated in September 2016, the child then spending time with each of his parents.
- According to the mother, the separation led to her struggling financially, and she therefore proposed that the child go to stay with the maternal grandmother in Latvia “for a few months”. The father agreed to the move, but claimed that it was intended to be permanent. Whatever, the child moved back to Latvia in February this year.
- At the end of March the father travelled to Latvia. Initially, this was to be for a two-week holiday, but he said that when he arrived in Latvia and realised how much he had missed his son, he changed his plans and decided to remain in Latvia. His son then moved in with him, at the home of the paternal grandparents.
- The mother had not been told of this new arrangement. After she found out she travelled to Latvia and, on the 4th of July, she brought the child back to England, without informing the father.
- The father then issued an application under the Hague Convention on Child Abduction for the summary return of the child to Latvia.
- The mother opposed the application, on two (well, actually three) grounds. Firstly, she claimed that at the date she removed him from Latvia the child was not habitually resident in that country, and therefore should not be returned there. Secondly, in the alternative, she claimed both that the father consented to the removal, and that returning the child to Latvia would expose him to physical or psychological harm, or otherwise place him in an intolerable situation.
Judge Pemberton found that when the child was habitually resident in Latvia when the mother removed him, as he was integrated into life in Latvia with many familiar family members around him. As such, his removal by his mother on the 4th of July was wrong.
As to the issue of consent, there was no evidence whatsoever that the father consented to the child’s removal from Latvia. Indeed, the evidence pointed the other way, with the mother accepting that she did not tell the father about her plan to travel back to the UK because she “expected him to cause a scene”.
Lastly, as to the risk of harm defence, this was on the basis that the child would be in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar people. This was simply not true. Whilst it would be distressing for the boy to be separated from his mother (in her defence she claimed that she was unable to return to Latvia, due to commitments in England), the mother had seen no problem with the boy being separated from both parents for a few months.
Accordingly, the mother’s defences were not made out and Judge Pemberton therefore ordered that the child should be returned to Latvia within 14 days.
You can read the full judgment here.