Child Abduction During The Pandemic

There has been guidance regarding contact arrangements between a parent and their child – but what if you or the other parent have concerns about the child’s safety during the Coronavirus pandemic? If you were to make an application to the Court in relation to your child, how quickly would this be dealt with and would it depend on the severity of the matter, which will also no doubt take into account any harm the child could be subject to?

In Re N (A child) [2020] EWFC 35 the Court considered an application made by a father after the mother of his child decided to remove the child from England to Greece.

By way of background, the mother and the father were Greek and had a 11-year-old son. The parties separated in 2017. The father moved to England shortly after the breakdown of the relationship and the mother and the child later moved to England in January 2019.

Only a matter of days prior to the UK commencing the nationwide lockdown, the mother unilaterally removed the child to Greece. The mother’s position was that she considered that the child would be safer to reside in during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Given that all judicial services have been suspended in Greece since 16 March 2020, the father issued his application to the High Court. The father sought an order seeking that the child be returned to England under the Hague Convention.

The matter was before Mostyn who stated that there would need to be a good reason before it would be appropriate for a Court to make an order summarily at the outset of the proceedings and that the appropriate course is for the Court to defer making an order for return until an application has been determined by the other state.

Mostyn did conclude, however, that the burden would be on the father to justify why deferring the application until the conclusion of the Hague proceedings should not take place.

It was the fathers position that there was a good reason in this case, and that, given the current pandemic and the fact that the judicial services in Greece had been suspended, that this would only cause greater delay to the child being returned if an order were made at a later date. Further, the father sought that there were interim measures in place to safeguard the child’s welfare until the Courts came to a decision regarding his application.

To conclude, Mostyn decided that, although Greece has a much lower rate of infection and morality than the UK, the mother had unlawfully removed the child from his place of habitual residence.

Mostyn therefore granted the requested declaration of habitual residence but ordered that the father’s application be adjourned until the conclusion of the proceedings in Greece. Mostyn’s position was that welfare enquiries could not be set aside despite the delays and difficulties caused by the current Coronavirus pandemic.

If you have any concerns regarding your child’s safety, including during the Coronavirus pandemic, you should immediately seek legal advice.

This information provided in this article is not intended to constitute legal advice and each relationship breakdown requires careful consideration in our view by a person fully qualified before decisions are made and before you embark on a certain course of action.

Emma Aslett

Penn Chambers Solicitors

0207 183 4595

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