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Taking a child abroad to protect from Covid-19

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A mother who took her eleven year old son from his home in London to the Greek island of Paros to escape Covid-19 is the subject of court proceedings, commenced by the boy’s father for his return to the UK. In this blog we look at whether you can take your child overseas if you think that your child will be at less risk of catching coronavirus by going abroad.

Online children and family law solicitors

In these difficult times it is understandable that you want to protect your children but the children and family law team  at OTS Solicitors  recommend that you take children law advice before taking a child overseas or changing contact arrangements.

Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form to set up a video conference, skype or telephone appointment with one of our specialist children lawyers to get the help and legal advice you need to answer your family law questions on Covid-19 and children law.

The Paros court case

It is worth looking at the brief anonymised details of what we have called the ‘’Paros court case’’ to understand the reasons why parents have been and still are tempted to take their children overseas to try to outrun Covid-19 and the potential legal consequences of doing so.

The mother and father are reported to both be Greek nationals. They are separated and, until the 20 March 2020, had both been living in the UK for over two years. With heightened concerns about the outbreak of Covid-19 in London, the mother took the decision to take her eleven year old son to the Greek island of Paros. There was logic in her decision in that:

  • At the time of the journey there were no reported cases of coronavirus on the isle of Paros
  • Greece has a lower mortality and infection rate for Covid-19 than the UK and London
  • The mother has family living on Paros.

However, the mother did not:

  • Ask the father’s permission to take the child to Paros
  • Apply for a court order for permission to take the child out of the UK.

As the mother did not take either of those steps the boy's father has started family law court proceedings asking judges in Greece and London to order his son’s return to England. The father says the boy was wrongly taken from London to Paros without his permission.

Mr Justice Mostyn heard the father’s court application at the High Court in London. The judge said that he had jurisdiction to hear the court case as although the family aren’t British citizens the child was habitually resident in the UK at the time that the mother took the child to Paros.

The judge adjourned the London court application by the boy’s father and ruled that a judge in Greece should hear evidence from the child’s mother and decide on whether the child should be returned to London.

The judge said the mother had left London with the boy on the 20 March, three days before the UK coronavirus lockdown, to travel to stay with her mother at her home on Paros. The judge accepted that the mother’s motivation in leaving the UK was her belief that she and her son would be safer from Covid-19 on Paros and that her view may well have been valid as Greece has a much lower rate of coronavirus infection and mortality than the UK.

The judge nonetheless went onto conclude that the mother’s decision to take the child out of the UK amounted to a wrongful removal of the child from the place of his habitual residence (the UK) and from his father.

The mother had told the father’s solicitor about her journey and the reason for it, but only after she had left the UK with her son. Whilst the mother said that she didn’t intend to stay in Greece with her son on a permanent basis she had nonetheless left the country for an indefinite period without first getting the father’s agreement or a court order from the London family court.

The law on court jurisdiction

Whilst there has reportedly still been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 on the island of Paros and although the UK now has a Covid-19 mortality figure of nearly 28,000, family lawyers say that it is vital that parents understand the law on taking children overseas so they don’t find themselves accused of child abduction or wrongful removal.

At OTS Solicitors, with an established reputation in immigration law and international family law, we know that many parents mistakenly think that if they aren’t British citizens that the British courts won't have jurisdiction over their child. That is wrong because the court’s jurisdiction over a child is based on the child’s habitually residence rather than their nationality. Habitually residence is a complex legal topic and there is plenty of family court case law on how quickly children can gain habitually residence in the UK.

Covid 19 and taking children overseas 

In the Paros case, the judge appears to have accepted the mother’s reasoning for removing her child from London – after all the statistics are quite stark. However, the mother is still embroiled in court litigation as whilst her motivation may not be in question at present, she still didn’t get the agreement of the child’s father to the trip or a court order giving her permission to take the child out of the UK.

The law in England says that you only do not need to get the other parent’s agreement or a court order to take your child overseas if:

  • You have a child arrangements order for your child that says you are the child’s primary carer
  • The child arrangements order does not say anything specific about not being able to take your child abroad
  • Your trip is temporary (for example, to see relatives or to go on holiday) and you will be overseas for less than four weeks.

The wording on some child arrangements orders isn’t always easy to understand so if you are unsure if you need the other parent’s agreement (or if you can't get their agreement, if you need a court order) then it is best to take legal advice on your existing child arrangements order and your options. If you don’t then you may end up in the same situation as the mother who took her son to Paros, thinking that she was doing the best for her son but now embroiled in distressing and expensive court proceedings. Likewise, if you don’t have a child arrangements order it is best to take legal advice before you plan a trip overseas, however worried you are about Covid-19.

Online children and family law solicitors

If you have questions about taking your child overseas or out of London during the Covid-19 pandemic then the children and family law team of specialist children law lawyers at OTS Solicitors are here to help you and answer your children law questions. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form so we can set up a skype, video conference or telephone appointment for you.

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