Custody battle: UK judge orders boy's return

London court notes Singaporean father had absconded from order requiring his stay in UK

An English judge has ruled that a five-year-old boy locked in a custody battle between his Singaporean father and Mongolian mother should be returned to her full-time care as it is "overwhelmingly" in the child's best interests that it be so.

His father, 39, had fled from London last September to be here so he could file a final bid to keep the boy in Singapore. Justice Jennifer Roberts, in wardship proceedings, noted the father had "absconded" from a British passport order which required him to remain in London until the child was returned there.

The boy, who will turn five in July, has lived in Singapore with his paternal grandparents for about three years under a voluntary care arrangement with the Ministry of Social and Family Development's Child Protective Service.

He was born in London, but was sent to his grandparents in late 2013 while his mother, now 33, prepared for exams in London. The marriage faltered and her husband divorced her in a Singapore court while she sued to split in England.

Justice Roberts, in judgment grounds released last week, which had the parents names redacted, acknowledged "without reservation" that the boy is now settled in his home surroundings here and was well attached to his grandparents, who had done a good job in caring for his physical needs.

"However, a very important component element of the boy's world is missing from his life and I am satisfied that this element (his mother) will remain absent from his life for so long as he remains in the primary care of the paternal family or any one of its members," said the judge.

Last year, a Singapore family court judge had also ordered the boy be returned to his mother to settle the issue in a London court.

There have been no fewer than 11 British court orders stating that the child is a resident of Britain and a ward of the British court, noted District Judge Tan Peck Cheng.

However, the boy remains here as the father's appeal against the Singapore court order is pending.

District Judge Tan had pointed out that there was no evidence the child's return would expose him to grave risk of physical or psychological harm, or an intolerable position.

"It would neither be against the best interests of the child nor public policy for me to make orders to mirror certain UK orders and I order accordingly," she said.

In her decision grounds, Justice Roberts also expressed concern about the tenor of the father's evidence to the court in Singapore, in the light of the history of the case.

"The evidence suggests that this father has lost all objectivity in relation to the English litigation. He has, indeed, rewritten history for the purposes of advancing his case in the Singapore proceedings."

Justice Roberts noted that the boy's mother would lose all contact with him if he was to remain here, and said that it would be "little short of catastrophic for this child were that situation to arise".

The judge also rejected the father's claim that the mother's unlawful bid to snatch their son from Singapore in 2014 had disqualified her from being a full-time mother. While the mother's action was not to be condoned, it was clear how distressed she was, the judge noted.

Justice Roberts said the father held a strong and mistaken belief that he was an innocent player in the debacle, and the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice by his son's mother and the English courts. She added that the passport orders which prevented him from leaving Britain were the "direct result of his own unlawful actions".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'Custody battle: UK judge orders boy's return'. Print Edition | Subscribe