Belfast Telegraph

Northern Irish woman ordered to take son (2) back to Australia

Father of boy known as L had never agreed to him staying in NI

By Alan Erwin

A High Court judge has ordered a Northern Irish woman to take her son back to Australia.

The boy, referred to only as L, has been in Northern Ireland since coming here with his parents for a family holiday in December 2013.

Mr Justice O'Hara held that the two-year-old boy's father had neither consented to his removal nor acquiesced in him staying in Northern Ireland.

He also rejected claims by the child's mother that compelling them to return to Australia would put him at grave risk.

It will be for the courts there to determine future custody arrangements, the judge confirmed.

The boy remained with his mother after she injured her foot in a fall and was unable to fly back to Australia.

His  father returned to his native country alone, subsequently issuing proceedings to have him returned.

The court heard how the couple first met in a remote Australian township while the woman was on an area health service work visa.

She flew back to Northern Ireland to give birth to L in 2012. But after the child obtained Australian citizenship papers they went back later that year.

Growing tensions and difficulties within the family led to the separation at the centre of the legal battle.

It was agreed that L had been wrongfully removed within the terms of the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.

To be able to keep her son in Northern Ireland the woman had to prove either that his father consented to or subsequently acquiesced in his removal or retention.

Alternatively, she could try to establish that a return would expose the boy to physical or psychological harm, or place him in an intolerable situation.

She alleged that his father had smacked him and handled him roughly on the flight from Australia.

It was further claimed that he tried to punch her when she was pregnant and caused her foot injury by deliberately pushing her down stairs.

But Mr Justice O'Hara held that the physical abuse allegations were not established.

He said it was striking that no reference was made to such events in hundreds of text and Facebook messages between the pair examined as part of the case.

Claims that any consent had been given were also rejected amid evidence that the father had sent her a message last May seeking reassurance that he was not wasting his time trying to put the family back together.

"It would be grossly unfair to hold otherwise on the basis that he was exploring the prospects of rehabilitation and reconciliation," the judge said. In a newly published ruling he added: "It is entirely possible that the Australian courts will look favourably on any application which the mother makes for relocation or primary residence or limited contact, but the point is that it is their decision to take. 

"It is not a decision to be taken by a court in Northern Ireland.  For all these reasons L is to be returned."


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