In a world made small by the ease of international travel, cross-cultural relationships are commonplace and the risks of child abduction are very real. However, as one High Court case showed, judges have very much in mind the benefits of children travelling abroad to experience their full family heritage at first hand.
The case concerned the nine-year-old son of a British father and a mother who was born in an African country that was not a signatory to the Hague Convention, which enshrines the international ban on child abduction. Following the breakdown of the relationship, the father was concerned that the mother might seek to remove their son permanently to her homeland. He obtained a court order that forbade either parent from removing the boy from the UK without the other’s consent.
The boy had, as a result, not left the UK with his mother for more than four years. In those circumstances, she applied to lift the order and for permission to take her son on foreign holidays, including to her homeland and other non-Hague Convention countries. Her application was fiercely resisted by the father.
The Court noted that the consequences of the mother abducting the child would be disastrous and that the father was understandably uneasy at the prospect of her taking their son abroad. Enforcing the boy’s return from the mother’s homeland if she chose to keep him there would be extremely difficult.
However, the Court found the mother to be a trustworthy parent who was focused on her son’s best interests and who had actively promoted his relationship with his father. Any risk of her abducting the child had to be balanced against the welfare benefits of enabling him to share adventures with his mother and of exposing him to the rich cultural and family life of her homeland.
Although the Court could not offer the father a cast-iron guarantee, it gave him the assurance of requiring the mother to provide him with flight details and addresses where she and the boy would be staying. Their trips abroad would initially be limited to two weeks, during which the father would have Internet-based contact. The mother also formally undertook to return to the UK with their son at the end of holidays and not to change his school without the father’s consent.