Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Judge rules mum must return child to father in Italy

A High Court judge has ordered a Northern Ireland woman to return her daughter to Italy following a legal battle with the child's father.

Mr Justice Stephens issued the direction after rejecting claims that bringing the four-year-old back would expose her to grave risk of intolerable harm.

The judge also pointed out |that the girl's mother should mount any application to relocate to Northern Ireland with her daughter in the Italian courts.

Proceedings were launched following a breakdown in the |relationship between the parents of the child, who was given |the pseudonym ‘Maria’ to protect her identity.

The couple had lived together in Italy since 2000.

She took Maria to Northern Ireland in July, apparently for a holiday, but did not return as expected. Instead she commenced wardship moves without her |ex-partner's knowledge. Mr Justice Stephens said it became clear to the father, an Italian national, that she had no intention of returning to Italy with Maria.

The child's father, who agrees that her mother is the primary carer as long as he has good regular contact, then applied for a court order.

It was argued — and accepted by the woman's lawyer — that Maria was wrongfully detained in Northern Ireland.

Counsel for the child's mother claimed, however, that taking her back involved a grave risk of the girl being exposed to physical or psychological harm, or place her in an intolerable position.

The woman claimed to have suffered 10 years of domestic abuse by Maria's father, and also that he made a sexually |inappropriate remark.

However, the judge held that the “sweeping allegation of domestic abuse... is in the main unparticularised”.

There was also no corroboration of the physical abuse claims, Mr Justice Stephens pointed out.

In his ruling, delivered last month but only now published by the Court Service, he said: “There is evidence in this case of harm but I do not consider it to amount to clear and compelling evidence that a return would create a grave risk of intolerable harm to Maria.”

The judge based his conclusion on a number of factors, including the lack of specific evidence, the father's denials, and a series of undertakings given by him.

Mr Justice Stephens ordered that Maria was to have been |returned to Italy on or before December 6, on the proviso that |her father formally signs his |undertakings and provides a sworn affidavit.

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