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“Tug-of-love” ruling resonates in law

You see? The system does work. Sometimes.

A six-year old girl and her two brothers are to be allowed to stay living with their mum in the UK after an Appeal Court ruling took into account where the little girl said she would rather live.

I think perhaps outside of legal circles, this will not be seen quite as the landmark that it actually is. Years ago, it used to be the case that children could be put in the horrible position of going to court, being put on the spot and being asked to choose between mummy and daddy.

How would YOU choose who you want to live with?

The Children Act has ensured that any decisions come from the viewpoint of the rights of the children to see both parents. Thankfully, reasons to put children in a court room and effectively ask them who they love the most are over.

This ruling this week though was different and related to a father suggesting the children had been abducted and a judge basing a decision on the statements of a six-year-old.

In a nutshell, the English-born mum had fled Ireland with her three children last summer. The father went to court to demand the children were ‘summarily returned’ to Ireland under the Hague Convention, the international treaty which tackles-child abduction in family cases. But Mrs Justice Black refused to order their return after hearing the strength of the two older children’s objections to the move. The decision was upheld on appeal at a hearing last week.

The court had heard how the six-year-old girl had been left with a ‘visceral’ fear of being sent back to live with her father in Ireland. Mrs Justice Black said the six-year-old and her older brother had ‘attained an age and level of maturity’ to have their wishes taken into account. She said it would be ‘intolerable’ for their younger brother to be separated from them.

She has become the youngest child to have her wishes influence the courts in an international child abduction case. And it has to be the right decision. Mrs Justice Black said the children’s objections were rooted ‘in their own experiences of family life and their fear of their father’. She accepted though that it was a radical ruling that would have far-reaching implications. After all, this is going against the Hague Convention.

This will not be the last we hear of this. However, it is a victory for commonsense and a strong ruling from a judge who put the needs and wants of the children ahead of the law. After all, using an abduction ruling to return children clearly afraid of being with their father into his care would have been no “tug of love.”

Andrew Woolley
Divorce and Family lawyer

Blog Author - Andrew Woolley

Andrew Woolley Andrew Woolley

Andrew is the owner and managing partner of Woolley & Co. He regularly offers comments and views on a range of family law issues.

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