Children’s wishes and feelings about their habitual residence.

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

What happens if a local authority wants to make an application for a care order regarding a child who comes from another country?  The Courts of England and Wales only have jurisdiction to make care orders if children are ‘habitually resident’ in the UK – mere physical presence is not enough. Although the Supreme Court have repeatedly said this is a ‘simple matter of fact’ it is clear that in practice it is not always easy to establish a child’s habitual residence.

i have no idea what the impact of Brexit will be on any of this; watch this space. 

What power does the court have to make orders about children who come from another country?

Jurisdiction derives from habitual residence.

The following basic principles can be derived from these authorities Re F (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 789; Re E (Brussels II Revised: Vienna Convention: Reporting Restrictions) [2014] EWHC 6 (Fam), [2014] FLR:

  • the jurisdictional reach of the courts of England and Wales in relation to care proceedings is not spelt out in any statutory provision.
  • Jurisdiction was normally determined by the habitual residence or physical presence of the child.
  • However, this was fundamentally modified by the Regulation Brussels II revised (BIIR) which applies to determine the jurisdiction of the English court in care proceedings, irrespective of whether the other country is a Member State of the European Union: see A v A and another (Children: Habitual Residence) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre and others intervening) [2013] UKSC 60, [2014] AC 1, para 30, and In re L (A Child: Habitual Residence) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre intervening) [2013] UKSC 75, [2013] 3 WLR 1597, para 18..
  • The basic principle, set out in Article 8(1) of BIIR is that jurisdiction is founded on habitual residence. It follows that the courts do not have jurisdiction to make a care order simply because a child is physically present.
  • The court must deal with this matter at the outset. The court should set out explicitly the basis upon which it has accepted or rejected jurisdiction. A declaration with regard to habitual residence cannot be made by default, concession or agreement but only if the court is satisfied by evidence.
  • If it is necessary to address the issue before there is time for proper investigation and determination, the following suggested recital should be used: “Upon it provisionally appearing that the child is habitually resident…”.

 

Habitual residence is a ‘matter of fact’.

The Supreme Court have repeatedly declared that ‘habitual residence’ is no more than a ‘simple fact’ which should be determined without any gloss. That arguably optimistic declaration has to be set against the number of times in fairly recent history that cases involving habitual residence have come before the Supreme Court – suggesting that determination of this ‘simple fact’ is a far from simple exercise and reflects the greater mobility of people in recent times and the wide variety of circumstances which impact on families, their composition and their location.

The basic proposition is that habitual residence is established by the degree of integration by the child is a ‘social and family environment’. See A v A and another (Children: Habitual Residence) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre and others intervening) [2013] ‘

  • habitual residence can in principle be lost and another habitual residence acquired on the same day.
  • habitual residence is a question of fact and not a legal concept such as domicile. There is no legal rule akin to that whereby a child automatically takes the domicile of his parents.
  • the test adopted by the European Court is ‘the place which reflects some degree of integration by the child in a social and family environment’ in the country concerned. This depends upon numerous factors, including the reasons for the family’s stay in the country in question. This is the preferred test.
  • Factors to take into account when assessing integration are
    i. The duration, regularity, conditions and reasons for being in the country
    ii. The child’s nationality
    iii. The place and conditions of attendance at school
    iv. Linguistic knowledge
    v. Family and social relationships in the country
  • The social and family environment of an infant or young child is shared with those (whether parents or others) upon whom he is dependent. Hence it is necessary to assess the integration of that person or persons in the social and family environment of the country concerned.
  • The essentially factual and individual nature of the inquiry should not be glossed with legal concepts which would produce a different result from that which the factual inquiry would produce.
  • it is possible that a child may have no country of habitual residence at a particular point in time.
  • For those children who have no habitual residence, Article 13 of Brussels II provides that where a child’s habitual residence cannot be established and jurisdiction cannot be determined under Article 12, the courts of the Member State where the child is present have jurisdiction.

Habitual residence requires physical presence.

Physical presence is a clear necessary precursor to a finding of habitual residence. In In the Matter of A (Children) (AP) [2013] UKSC 60 the Supreme Court by a majority agreed that a new born baby could not claim habitual residence in the UK even though it was his mother’s place of habitual residence and she had been coerced into leaving the country to give birth. However the Supreme Court agreed it was possible in such extreme circumstances to order the child’s return to the UK using the inherent jurisdiction.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled in 2017 that Article 11(1) of the Brussels II bis Regulation:

must be interpreted as meaning that, in a situation in which a child was born and has been continuously residing with his or her mother for several months in accordance with the joint agreement of the parents in a Greece, while in Italy they had their habitual residence before birth, the initial intention of the parents as to the return of the mother accompanied by the child in Italy cannot allow the child to be regarded as having his or her habitual residence in Italy. The CJEU concludes that in such a situation the refusal of the mother to return to Italy accompanied by the child cannot be regarded as an ‘unlawful displacement or non-return’ within the meaning of Article 11(1).

This case seems to resolve the dilemma, dividing national courts, as to whether the physical presence of the child in the territory of a state is a necessary precondition for establishing the child’s habitual residence

Children only recently present or intermittently present in the jurisdiction

These situations require closer examination in light of the requirement of integration into a social or family environment as necessary to establish the ‘fact’ of habitual residence. It is clear that the position of young and dependent children cannot easily be seen in isolation from the position of their primary carer. See A v A (Children: Habitual Residence) [2013] UKSC 60: “The social and family environment of an infant or young child is shared with those (whether parents or others) upon whom he is dependent.”

However this does not mean that the perceptions of older children about where they habitually reside are irrelevant. See Re: LC (Reunite: International Child Abduction Centre intervening) [2014] UKSC 1.[43] Lord Wilson: It will be clear from my formulation of the question in para 1 above that in my view it is, in principle, the state of mind of adolescent children during their residence in a place that may affect whether it was habitual.

However,  judicial dicta from other authorities does not support  ‘state of mind’ as determinative.

See Re R (A Child) [2015] EWCA Civ 674 where the Court of Appeal considered the circumstances of a 4 year old girl S. She was born in 2010 in Morocco to an American mother, who had lived in England since the age of 13, and a Moroccan father. Shortly, after her birth, the mother travelled to England and fraudulently registered the birth in Kent. Thereafter, she travelled to and from various locations before returning to the UK in March 2013. In October 2013 S suffered serious injuries and was placed in foster care. The local authority did not commence care proceedings until April 2014.

Given by the time protective measures had been taken S and her mother had been living in the UK for over a year, there seems little doubt as a matter of fact that S was habitually resident ‘at the relevant time’ i.e. the making of the care order application but it was argued on behalf of the father that S’s life had been so unhappy with a neglectful mother, that it could not be said she was ‘integrated’ into a social environment and therefore her habitual residence was in fact Morocco.

Mr Justice Hayden decided that the court had jurisdiction to make a care order with respect to S on the basis that S’s habitual residence was, and had been throughout her life, the United Kingdom. The father’s appeal was dismissed. The CoA were critical of the judge’s finding that S had been ‘habitually resident in the UK all her life’ as all that was needed was a finding that S had habitual residence at the relevant time. However, his decision was not ‘perverse’ given the complexities of this case, including the dishonesty of the parents and the mother’s ‘frequent and erratic’ changes of location.

Mr Justice Hayden at first instance said this about integration

‘Integration’ as a concept involves a fusion of both the factual and the emotional, it is where a child feels settled, secure, happy and where the focus of his interests and attachments lie. It is not merely geographical, identifying habitual residence requires much greater nuance than that, drawing inferences from facts, the parents’ conduct, the feelings a child communicates and what the child may say. Lord Wilson encapsulated the point in Re LC (supra) at para 37 emphasising that integration encompasses more than the ‘surface features’ of a child’s life.”

This did not entirely meet with the approval of the Court of Appeal: McFarlane LJ commented:

“When determining habitual residence there is no requirement that, to be sufficient to support a finding, the individual needs to be happy, well cared for or free from abuse. The ‘social and family environment’ into which a child might be integrated may include both positive and negative factors. These will not be irrelevant.”

Thus it is conceded that it is not possible to claim that any period of time spent in another country during which a child was unhappy must then automatically preclude a finding of habitual residence in that country.

Conclusions

All of these discussions, while interesting, serve most usefully in my submissions to reflect the profound difficulties of applying general principles to the probably infinite variety of circumstances in which families find themselves.

I suggest that a pragmatic approach must be taken. The importance of habitual residence is clearly underpinned by asking ‘what jurisdiction is best able to make decisions about a child’s welfare’. And that jurisdiction is usually the one where the child actually lives or has spent the most time. However, the court will need to look beyond this starting point and the wishes and feelings, particularly of older children, may well be relevant.

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