Lawyers Say Recent Case Highlights ‘Delicate’ Situation For Both Parents And Children During Separation
By Dave Grimshaw
As Britain’s airports get ready for their busiest month of the year with many people dashing abroad on summer holidays, a leading family lawyer has urged caution to separated parents struggling to come to terms with living apart from their children.
Louise Halford, a family lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, specialises in child abduction cases which over the past few years have peaked in August and September as newly divorced parents refuse to return their children after summer holidays.
Over the past decade there has been an 88 per cent increase in the number of abduction cases with more than 500 reported during 2012. The latest statistics also show that over 100,000 children under 16 are involved in divorce proceedings each year and Irwin Mitchell’s expert family lawyers are concerned that many families may struggle with the prospect of dealing with separation over the summer for the first time.
Just this week Jennifer Jones was cleared of contempt of court after disappearing for five days with four of her five children which breached a High Court order to return them to their father. Back in 2008 the Spanish courts had awarded custody to the father and the children lived with him in Spain.
However when Ms Jones took the children on holiday in 2012 she argued that two of the older children who were 12 and 14 refused to return. She could have been sent to prison but Justice Munby, president of the Family Division of the High Court, ruled she should not be punished because she did not ‘deliberately’ breach the court order and was simply caught in a tricky position when her children did not want to return home.
Louise Halford, a Partner at Irwin Mitchell, which has offices across the country, said: “This case highlights the terrible situation parents can face when their children have clear views on where they should live.
“It’s not uncommon for a situation whereby parents live in different countries to their children for years without problems, only for the children to question their position when they grow older.
“This puts parents in a delicate situation, especially where court orders are in place. There are laws governing the correct process for deciding where children should live and agreements across most European countries to help locate children who have been wrongfully taken by a parent and return them to their home.
“The best interests of the child must come first and the arrangements and rules are there to avoid children being moved from home to home and from suffering abrupt massive changes in their lifestyle which could have a negative effect on their development.”
The Hague Convention is a powerful international agreement designed to ensure the swift return of children wrongfully removed from their home or wrongfully retained by one of their parents. In the majority of cases a return is ordered, although there are limited defences, one of which is the child's express wishes to the contrary.
Spain, USA and Pakistan were among the most destinations for child abductions from the UK in 2012 but Louise at Irwin Mitchell has worked on cases from many different countries across the world including Dubai and the Middle East.
Halford added: “If parents are concerned either about their children being ‘retained’ by the other parent or want their children to move to another country, it is vital they seek specialist legal advice as they could face a prison sentence if they do not follow the appropriate procedures.
“In Ms Jones’ case, two of the children took matters into their own hands and ran to the local police station on the day they were due to be returned. The mother claimed she then acted on instinct and felt she had no option but to run and hide. Of course High Court Orders are not to be deliberately flouted but in this case the Judge accepted that the Mother had not intentionally set out to breach the rules.”
Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in International Family Law work.