Many thousands of children are caught up in the humanitarian crisis arising from the war in Ukraine. Families have been split asunder and, as one case showed, the English courts are very much involved in coping with the consequences.
The case concerned two children, aged nine and five, who were born in Ukraine and had spent much of their lives there. Their father was British and their mother was a dual British/Ukrainian national. Following the parents’ divorce, the father returned to England and a court in Kyiv ruled that the children should live with their mother.
Fearing for their lives after Russian missiles started to fall on Kyiv, the mother fled to Germany with the children. They were granted sanctuary by the German authorities but lived in very cramped conditions. The father ultimately travelled to Germany and flew back to the UK with the children. After he declined the mother’s requests to return them to her care in Germany, she launched proceedings in England under the Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985.
Ruling on the matter, the High Court found that the children were habitually resident in Ukraine but that it had the power to order their return to a third-party state, Germany. It acknowledged that the father had taken the children to the UK with the mother’s consent. However, she had only agreed to their temporary relocation to this country and would never have consented to their long-term removal from her care. The father had thus wrongfully retained the children in the UK.
The Court acknowledged that the children had settled well in English schools and that the older child had objected to being sent back to Germany. However, she loved and missed her mother and her views had to be assessed in the light of her age and level of maturity. In the exercise of its discretion, the Court ruled that the children should be returned to Germany. It hoped that the parents would cooperate in making travel arrangements and in ensuring that the children maintained a good relationship with both of them.