Mum given custody of child in cross-border case

Judge in HK rules in favour of mum who lives there over ex-husband who moved to S'pore

A Hong Kong judge has awarded care and control of an 11-year-old girl to her mother there, rather than relocate her to Singapore with her father, in a case he described as "one of the most difficult he has ever had to deal with ".

Deputy District Judge Pang Ka-kwong's remarks over a rare cross-border tussle came in judgment grounds released last week.

He found that the girl's mother, a 45-year-old senior police officer in Hong Kong, was better placed as primary caregiver compared with her 46-year-old lawyer father who could provide the girl with an "idyllic garden house in a very nice neighbourhood" and "(she could) attend one of the best schools here".

Neither parent can be named for legal reasons, but the judge added: "Both parties are loving parents who have a very good relationship with the child, have the capability of taking good care of the child and are devoted to take up their parental responsibilities."

The couple married in 1998 but divorced 13 years later, with the mother having care and control of their then six-year-old daughter.

In 2014, the father who was born and raised in Singapore remarried, marrying his childhood friend - a divorcee with an 11-year-old child - and relocated here last year. He sought a Hong Kong court order for care and control of the child to be given to him and for her to be permanently relocated to Singapore.

The father, who had lived in Hong Kong for 17 years, stressed that the move to relocate to Singapore was not "made lightly", pointing to the comparative living arrangements he could provide with his new family in Singapore and the overall environment in each city.

He added that the child was close to her paternal grandmother and other relatives in Singapore and claimed she was "unequivocal" in wanting to move to Singapore to live with him.

The mother argued that she had been the child's prime caregiver since birth and claimed that the stepmother "hardly knows her".

She added that this was not an appropriate time or stage for the child to be uprooted from her school, peers and relatives in Hong Kong.

Judge Pang accepted that either party would have no difficulty in keeping contact with the child whether she was in Hong Kong or Singapore. But he held that the mother might have a "special role in the child's growth and development needs as she goes through puberty".

He said that despite the "very good relationship" the child had with both parents, he placed "a particular weight on the fact that her relationship with (her) mother in comparison with (her) father is much more intimate", and that the child's relationship with the stepmother and stepsister "is far from being as close as the father would like the court to believe".

The judge dismissed the father's application and ordered both sides to agree on a detailed child access plan within 21 days.

Meanwhile, in a Singapore judgment released on Monday, a family court judge acknowledged that it was "not an easy decision to make" when having to rule on a similar parental tussle here.

District Judge Yarni Loi ordered that care and control of two children be given to their father with "generous access" for their mother.

"I should stress that there is no perfect solution given the imperfect conditions; and arguments went both ways," added the judge. She said her decision was based on the children's best interests in the long run - "academically, emotionally, psychologically and physically".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2016, with the headline 'Mum given custody of child in cross-border case'. Print Edition | Subscribe