High Court dismisses father's bid to stop young son from moving back to Britain with his mother

SINGAPORE - Before moving to Singapore with their young son, a British couple signed a letter stating that if their relationship soured, the mother would return to Britain with the child.

Within a year of the move, the unmarried couple's relationship broke down and they became embroiled in a court fight over whether the child, now five, should relocate to his home country.

In March, the father filed a further application, citing issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic to argue against the relocation.

On Tuesday (July 7), a High Court judge gave written grounds to explain why she dismissed the father's arguments and allowed the child to move back to Britain with his mother.

Justice Debbie Ong said while the letter was not legally binding, it suggested that the couple did not intend Singapore to be their permanent home and the child's relocation would be akin to a move back to his original home.

Citing the boy's welfare, the judge said he was young and would be able to settle down in Britain and enjoy the benefits of citizenship, in contrast to his temporary immigration status in Singapore.

She added that the court should not make orders on relocation based on the fast-evolving Covid-19 pandemic, because these orders would quickly become outdated as the global situation changes.

According to the judgment, the couple met in London in 2004 and had the child in October 2014, after the woman's fifth in-vitro fertilisation attempt.

The mother lived and worked in London and was the child's primary caregiver, while the father left to live in Monaco in March 2014, largely due to the tax benefits there.

 
 

In 2017, the couple decided to move to Singapore.

On Dec 17, 2017, they signed a letter setting out their intentions concerning the move. The letter also recorded the arrangements for their child in the event of a breakdown in their relationship.

The family travelled to Singapore separately, on Dec 30, 2017, and on Jan 8, 2018.

The woman alleged that the man physically assaulted her in February 2018, screamed at her in front of their child and threatened to evict her from the apartment multiple times.

In September 2018, mother and son left for a planned vacation to London and were later joined by the boy's father. But she did not return to Singapore with the child as expected.

The man started court proceedings and the English High Court ordered that the child should return to Singapore.

After mother and child returned to Singapore in January 2019, a plethora of court applications were filed relating to care and control and access to the boy.

In October last year, a district judge granted the mother care and control of the child and also granted the mother's application to allow the child to relocate to London.

 

The boy's father then appealed to the High Court.

He argued that the child was well-settled in Singapore and that the mother could make sacrifices for the child and find employment here, so that the child could be cared for by both parents.

He further argued that the Covid-19 situation was under control here compared to Britain. He also argued that international travel posed risks of infection and that travel restrictions made it difficult for him to have access to the child.

However, Justice Ong upheld the lower court's decision.

She said: "I accepted the mother's submission that relocation ultimately concerned the child's long-term interests with ramifications that would last far beyond this pandemic."