Single parents who flee abroad with child ‘cannot escape UK court proceedings’

February 4, 2016


Supreme Court rules in such instances parents cannot claim they now live outside UK’s jurisdiction.

Single parents who take their children and flee abroad cannot escape court proceedings by claiming they now live outside the UK’s jurisdiction, the Supreme Court has ruled.


The UK’s most senior judges upheld a lesbian woman’s argument that she had rights as a de facto parent after the child’s biological mother left Britain and took the child to Pakistan following a relationship breakdown. The ruling followed the refusal of High Court and Appeal Court judges to order the seven-year-old girl’s return to the UK. The lower courts said they did not have the jurisdiction to make such an order as the child was already living in Pakistan.

Lawyer Simon Bruce, of Farrer & Co, representing the Reunite International Child Abduction Centre in the case, said: “This judgment is of huge practical significance – and is a remarkably humane and modern judgment. The court has sent out a message that a parent with sole legal rights will no longer succeed in avoiding proceedings by abducting a child.”


Lawyer Simon Bruce

The courts heard the couple, who lived in a same-sex relationship, had a child after IVF treatment. The father was an unknown sperm donor of Asian background. The couple never entered into a civil partnership and the biological mother was the sole legal parent. In 2011, the relationship broke down and the partner moved out of the family home but had regular contact with the girl and continued to help pay the household bills.

That contact ended suddenly in 2014 and the partner discovered that mother and child, both British nationals, had moved to Pakistan where the mother had family ties.

However, Lord Wilson, giving the majority decision, said judges in the lower courts were wrong to think the child’s habitual residence ended the day she left England and flew to Pakistan.

The case will now return to the High Court where a judge will decide what happens next. Lord Wilson said the judge hearing the case may wish to consider making the child a party to the case by appointing a guardian.

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