...winning international child custody disputes
A well-known face to thousands of children across the UK has recently found herself not only dragged through the family courts but also accused of ‘kidnapping’. Emma Pearmaine, Director of Family Services at Simpson Millar, examines a case steeped in dishonesty, intrigue, and betrayal.
Globe spanning child custody battle
Ever since she rose to kids’ TV prominence presenting I Can Cook on the CBeebies channel, Katy Ashworth has been a firm favourite of pre-schoolers everywhere. When not found administering to the needs of a particularly tricky jam roly poly, she could also be found on continuity duties for the same channel, ensuring her face became as familiar as Mum’s to wee nippers the length and breadth of the country.
But more recently, she has found herself locked in a globe-spanning custody battle with her ex-partner, Ben Alcott, who accused Ashworth of wrongfully removing their child from his home in Australia.
The two struck up a relationship mid-2011, which, despite being long-distance in nature (she lived in England, he Australia) resulted in the child at the centre of the legal tussle, born 2013. It wasn’t always a romance made in TV heaven, with the two breaking up and getting back together on various occasions, but things came to a head earlier this year when, following her departure from the CBeebies stable, Ashworth moved out to Australia in a trial attempt to see if their relationship could work long term.
The experiment came to an abrupt end though, when, after 3 nights in his home, she discovered via Alcott’s computer evidence that he was, in fact, carrying on with up to 4 other women.
Katy returned to the UK shortly afterwards, bringing the child with her.
It was Alcott’s desire to have their child returned to him in Australia that triggered the court case. He claimed that his former partner’s move to the country was never a trial but intended to be permanent and that their child had, in the short time he was over there, become habitually resident in Australia and therefore had been unlawfully removed without the father’s consent.
Habitual residence is determined by whether there has been a level of integration into a social or family environment on the part of a child and is used to help settle conflict of laws – where the parties involved fall under different legal jurisdictions.
Tasked with untangling the whole sorry situation, Deputy High Court Judge Alex Verdan said:
“I found the mother’s evidence to be clear and consistent and supported by documents. I found the father’s evidence to be inconsistent, unreliable and unconvincing.”
He ruled in favour of Ashworth, allowing the child to stay in the UK with her.
“Child custody cases are rarely straightforward affairs and when one parent lives overseas, as in this particular instance, things can get notably messy.”
“Countries signed up to the Hague Convention are required to resolve custody cases swiftly to ensure the safety, well-being and best interests of the child. Member states are bound by the Convention to recognise what country the child has habitual residence in and must respect and enforce any measures that have been taken there.”
“This was the key factor in the father’s claim, for if the Judge had agreed with him and determined the child in question’s habitual residence to be Australia, the child might have had to go back there. Instead, the Judge ruled in the mother’s favour, stating that the child was ‘not integrated to a sufficient degree in Australia’ and that the mother’s decision to move there was ‘based on a fundamentally flawed premise.'”
“He was unequivocal in his decision that the child had not put down roots there and supported the mother in her case to return with the child to England.”
Written by Emma Pearmaine
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