Mum gets to keep son in S'pore after parents' tug-of-war over child, but court awards costs to Irish dad

The couple, both veterinarians in their 40s, were living in Ireland when the child was born in 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Following an unwed couple's rare tug-of-war over their child, a district judge rejected the Irish father's bid to have the boy relocated to Britain, but also criticised the Singaporean mother for alienating the child from his dad.

The couple, both veterinarians in their 40s, were living in Ireland when the child was born in 2015. But after the couple broke up and since 2017, mother and child have lived in Singapore.

There were "legitimate expectations of a father to have his child live with him in the UK", said the judge, as against continuing the status quo which keeps the boy, now aged six, here with his mother.

"Arriving at the answer was not easy. But in the end, having considered the matter carefully, I found that the balance tilted in favour of the mother's case," said District Judge Clement Yong in decision grounds issued last month.

In ruling the child's interests are best served by maintaining the current living arrangement in Singapore, the judge said he also considered the mother's conduct before the proceedings and found "the justice of the case necessitated an award of costs of $16,000 to the father".

The couple, who began dating in England in 2004, lived in Britain and Ireland and continued to live there after the child was born in 2015.

The relationship soured during a six-week vacation in Thailand in early 2017, with mother and son travelling first and the father joining them later.

The mother then brought the boy back to Singapore instead of returning to Ireland, and has lived here since.

Court applications followed in Singapore and Ireland and ultimately both parties agreed through mediation that the father return to live in Singapore for a year and be given 40 per cent exclusive parenting access to the child. Within this period, the parties would make arrangements to relocate with the child to Britain or a third country by mutual consent.

The father moved to Singapore in December 2019 and got along well with his son; but their relationship later broke down and by August last year, the boy refused to see his father.

The father then applied to court for a psychologist to be appointed to facilitate the child's access to him, while the mother cross-applied for an expert to assist the court in resolving issues of access and custody.

The court heard the matters over three days earlier this year, during which period a medical practitioner the couple mutually agreed to was appointed to provide an expert report for the court on various things, including why the relationship between father and son broke down and whether there was parental alienation, as well as what caused it.

The doctor found the boy was closely attached to his mother and spoke highly of her, but spoke negatively of his father.

The boy was reluctant to be around his father due to the alienation of his parents; a considerable period of separation from his father also multiplied the effect.

The doctor added that parental alienation came as a result of statements the mother made that would have caused the boy to perceive his father in a negative light as well as forcing him to "choose sides".

The judge agreed in the absence of any evidence to challenge the doctor's opinion and ordered a trained therapist be appointed either here or in Britain by mutual consent to carry out remote treatment with a view towards improving the father's relationship with the child.

He further ruled that the mother refrain from discussing any matters relating to the father with the boy, even if such discussions are initiated by the child, unless the mother is talking about the father positively.

The mother was also to take all necessary steps to ensure that none of her family members and/or partner discuss any matters relating to the father with the child, even if such discussions are started by the boy, unless they are talking about the father positively.

District Judge Yong noted that the father - in reliance of an Irish court order - had come to Singapore in 2019 with a view towards staying for 12 months in order to make arrangements with the mother for their relocation to Britain, incurring much cost and time away from his veterinary practice in Ireland.

"All that was eventually for nought, as the mother's action had made it no longer viable for the relocation to take place.

"In the interests of justice, the father ought to be placed, as much as possible, in the same financial position (as he was before and would still be) had the mother not breached the spirit of the Irish order. I therefore saw it fit that costs be awarded to the father," added the judge.

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