Anita Shepherd – partner and head of Family – discusses High Court ruling ordering the return of a child living in Singapore with grandparents since July 2013 to mother in England

This case highlights the risks in the UK which is a multicultural society where children are caught in the middle of an international custody battle.  It highlights that the parents desire is not paramount, as the needs of the children must prevail at all times.

This was the final welfare hearing in long running litigation involving a child, (S), born in July 2012. S travelled to Singapore to stay with his paternal grandparents in July 2013, while his mother, (M), studied for exams. When M arrived to collect S in January 2014, his father, (F), a Singaporean national, served her with Singaporean divorce and custody proceedings and an order prohibiting S’s removal from Singapore.

M obtained a return order in wardship proceedings in England and the grandparents were made parties, but F and his parents disputed the English court’s jurisdiction and failed to comply with the order. F argued S was settled in Singapore and a return order would put S in an intolerable situation and expose him to psychological harm, as he had not seen M since January 2014. Singaporean judgments ordered S’s return to England, stating the English court was the more appropriate forum for resolving issues about S’s future living arrangements.

F and his parents declined to participate in the English proceedings.

M’s measured attitude and focus on S’s needs impressed the judge. It was in S’s best interests to return to M’s full-time care in England. There was no evidence S would be at risk of physical or psychological harm. While S was settled in Singapore, his relationship with M was warm and spontaneous, despite their time apart, evidenced by video recordings of contact that took place in 2016. If S remained in Singapore, he would be denied a meaningful relationship with M, whereas M had demonstrated a willingness to promote contact with F and his parents, despite their treatment of her.

This case emphasises how the court is often powerless to resolve international matters swiftly where one parent acts unilaterally and wilfully flouts court orders: parties must engage with proceedings and prioritise a child’s needs.  Thankfully, the mother in this case was very motivated to protect the best interests of her child which was coupled with effective legal support.

Case: MB v GK & Others (No 2) Wardship (welfare) [2017] EWHC 16 (Fam) (17 November 2016).(Bailii)

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