A father has failed in his attempt to have his two sons returned to live with him after they told the Family Court that he had subjected them to physical abuse.
The case involved a family who had lived in Lithuania and separated when the children were very young.
In 2020, while custody proceedings were taking place in Lithuania, the mother had absconded with the children to England.
She alleged that a few months earlier the father had beaten the younger child. She had complained to the Lithuanian authorities and reported the assault to police.
No action was taken, and the father applied for the children to live with him.
In May 2021, the Lithuanian court ordered that the children be removed from the mother’s care to the father’s because she had obstructed contact and sought to alienate the father.
The mother appealed, asserting there was a grave risk of harm if the children were returned to Lithuania. With the appeal still pending, the mother took the children to England.
The father applied for a return order under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
He submitted that the court had to adopt the findings of the Lithuanian court and order the children’s return to Lithuania
Both children separately told a social worker that the father had beaten the youngest child and physically chastised them by twisting their ears.
They were reluctant to see their father and had both settled well into an English school and wished to remain in the UK.
The mother also asserted that the father had demonstrated coercive and controlling behaviour, and had raped her and forced her to perform sex acts on him. Those allegations had not been raised in the Lithuanian proceedings.
The children’s guardian opposed a return order on the basis that insufficient measures would be in place to protect the children.
The court ruled in favour of the mother.
While it had to respect the decision of the Lithuanian court, it also had to take into account that the order was suspended pending the appeal.
The children had repeated the allegations of the father beating the youngest child independently and consistently in a way that appeared to be genuine and unrehearsed.
There was a grave risk that return would expose the children to physical and psychological harm or would otherwise place them in an intolerable situation.
There was a risk that the mother’s mental health would deteriorate if a return order were made, adversely affecting the children psychologically and her ability to care for them.
If the children were returned to the care of the father, the risk of harm would be even more grave.
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