The High Court has ruled that a nine-year-old girl should be allowed to stay with her mother and not be returned to her violent father.
The mother alleged that the relationship was significantly blighted by physical, emotional and sexual domestic abuse.
The case involved a couple who had lived together with their daughter in Poland. In September 2020, the mother removed the daughter from the family home and travelled to England.
At a hearing in November 2020 in England, the father agreed that he would not denigrate the mother to the daughter. However, in conversations with the child over the internet and phone, recorded by the mother, the father had threatened both the mother and child.
The mother had reported her allegations of abuse to the police in Poland, but slow progress had been made with the criminal investigation.
It was not in dispute that the father had rights of custody under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980.
The issues were whether any exceptions applied, namely whether:
(1) there was a grave risk that the child’s return to Poland would expose her to physical or psychological harm
(2) the child objected to returning to Poland and was of an age and maturity at which it would be appropriate to take account of her views.
The judge reiterated that the focus had to be on the risk to the child.
The father submitted that protective measures would be effective to address the alleged risk of harm, including a restraining order and extensive financial support.
However, the mother had filed powerful substantive evidence in support of her case that she had been subjected to multiple forms of domestic abuse.
Her evidence was detailed and was buttressed and corroborated by the evidence of third-party witnesses and the daughter.
The alleged abuse took multiple forms, including that the father had violated the mother physically, sexually and emotionally.
If the allegations were true, there would be a grave risk that the child would be exposed to physical or psychological harm.
Regarding protective measures, the restraining order was impossible to enforce under Polish law and the Polish investigation into the alleged abuse had been moving slowly.
Further, the threats made by the father to the daughter had been extremely distressing. The court was not satisfied that the protective measures proposed by the father would be sufficient to protect her.
Also, the child objected to a return to Poland, and she had obtained an age and degree of maturity that meant her views should be considered. The objection was rooted in a genuine fear that she would be brought into close contact with her father.
The child was Polish and prior to September 2020 had been habitually resident there. However, the moment at which a swift return could have been made had long passed; the child had settled in England and had been at school there for 16 months.
The father’s application to have his daughter returned to Poland was rejected.
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