Family and criminal proceedings in this matter ran side-by-side, with family proceedings concluding in July 2018.
What the two decisions serve to show is that just because you are successful in obtaining the family outcome you sought, you may not be exempt from criminal sanctions if you have committed an offence like this. It’s important to note that even in a case where one parent has taken extreme action by taking children out of the country, the court will always prioritise welfare of the children over any issues between the parents.
Indea Ford’s relationship with the children’s father ended in 2012. Mrs Ford alleged that the father had been violent to her, which he categorically denied. No findings were ever made about this. In May 2015, a senior judge refused Mrs Ford’s application to relocate to Alaska with the two children. She had, by this point, already had a child with and married another man who was based in Alaska. She travelled to Alaska anyway in October 2015, without the permission of the court or the father.
The father applied to the court immediately, and both children were made wards of the court, with two orders being made requiring that Mrs Ford allow the children to be returned to England as soon as possible. She claimed never to have received these orders. He also notified the police, and as a result, steps were taken to arrest and extradite Mrs Ford. In September 2016, the father applied to the court for interim care of the children should Mrs Ford return to the UK. Although this was granted, it never came to pass as the children remained in Alaska with their step-father throughout. In April 2017, Mrs Ford was arrested in the US, and bailed. She was then required to surrender to the authorities in Alaska in January 2018, eventually returning to the UK in April 2018. In July 2018, at the time of the final hearing, she had been detained continuously for about six months. The children had been living and settled in Alaska for almost three years.
Ultimately, it was this that would prove to be the father’s downfall as far as family proceedings were concerned. When a child is taken out of the UK illegally, the remaining parent can apply to the court in the country they have been removed to under the Hague Convention (provided it is a country to which the Convention applies). The Hague Convention also requires countries to assist in providing legal representation to people who apply. The father in this case did make enquiries about this at the time of the abduction, but nothing was ever pursued. The reasons for this were never fully established, although potential costs were mentioned.
It was pointed out at an earlier hearing that, had the father made an application under the Convention earlier, this would have been ‘a plain case of "wrongful removal"’. However, because the children had been in Alaska for so long, this led the court at the final hearing to conclude that the children were ‘habitually resident’ in the US, and that as a result it was in their best interests for them to stay there.
Nevertheless, despite a favourable family court outcome, Mrs Ford admitted the two criminal charges of abduction for which she was originally extradited to the UK, and was sentenced to three years and six months in prison. That is three years and six months without her children. Ultimately, what this makes clear is that the two-pronged approach to dealing with abduction cases (namely through the family court and criminal sanctions) can still catch people out; just because one outcome is the one you wanted, it doesn’t mean the other will be.
Sadly though, like in so many cases of this type, it does appear that the worst off are the two children, who will now be without both parents for the foreseeable future.
If you are concerned about your children being removed to another country and require advice, please do not hesitate to get in touch via phone or email.
The content of this article is for general information purposes only. For further advice please contact a member of Birketts' Family Team. Law covered as of September 2018.