A UK court has ordered a father who kept his son in Singapore with his parents to return him to the UK.
The couple met and married in Singapore in 2011. The mother originated from Mongolia. The father who worked for a bank, purchased a home in London and the mother joined him there. Their son was born the following year. By all accounts the marriage was strained. Police were called on a number of occasions and Westminster social services were involved when allegations of domestic abuse were made against the father.
In June 2013 the mother was studying at Birkbeck University and it was agreed the father’s parents would take the boy to Singapore to live with them for a few months.
In January this year, the couple flew out to Singapore with a return flight apparently booked for all three of them a few weeks later. Without telling the mother, the father had resigned from his London-based job, lined up a new position in Singapore and withdrawn £18,000 from the joint account. Immediately on his arrival in Singapore, the father commenced custody and divorce proceedings. The mother was served with the papers over lunch with the father.
The mother returned to the UK without her son. She found herself locked out of the family home and her ATM card cancelled. She started court proceedings in England for the return of her son, claiming she had only ever agreed to a temporary stay. The father, meanwhile, insisted that they had agreed to an indefinite stay.
The presiding judge looked at the issue of jurisdiction and the child’s “habitual residence”: was it in England, where he had been born, or had he become Singaporean during his stay in the country, as the father argued?
The judge said that the factual element is important i.e. where the child is physically located but also important is the intent and purpose of the parties and the wider circumstances of how the child came to be where he currently is.
The judge concluded there was no shared intention to relocate back to Singapore. The purpose of the child’s journey to Singapore, as agreed by his parents at the time was for a short period from August to November 2013, while the mother completed her studies. This was extended to January 2014 because the father could not travel owing to work commitments. The child’s habitual residence therefore remained in England and the judge ordered that the child be returned.