It is not surprising that cases involving allegations of international child abduction can be highly emotionally charged but, as a High Court decision showed, it is very often the dispassionate legal concept of habitual residence that proves decisive.
The case concerned two little girls, aged nine and two, who moved with their parents from Britain to Austria for reasons related to the father’s work. The mother returned to Britain with the children about six months later. That prompted the father to apply to the Court under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction for an order requiring the children’s return to Austria.
Rejecting his application, however, the Court found that the children had throughout remained habitually resident in Britain. Both were British citizens, having been born here, and the older girl in particular had strong friendship and other links to this country that had not been broken by the family’s relatively brief and interrupted sojourn in Austria. The parents, although born overseas, were also British citizens.
The Court noted that the children’s integration into Austrian society was disrupted by the volatile nature of their parents’ relationship, which resulted in a chaotic and highly dysfunctional home life. The father, who had business and family links to Austria, considered himself settled there. The mother, who had no such connections and had lived in Britain since childhood, did not. The Court found that she had only agreed to move to Austria for a six-month trial period.