Mother cannot move son to US, judge rules

Co Armagh man wins order preventing ex-wife from taking child out of the UK

A Co Armagh man has won a  High Court battle to stop his ex-wife from taking their son to live in the US.  File photograph: Stephen Hird/Reuters

A Co Armagh man has won a High Court battle to stop his ex-wife from taking their son to live in the US. File photograph: Stephen Hird/Reuters


A Co Armagh man has won a Northern Ireland High Court battle to stop his ex-wife from taking their son to live in the US.

Mr Justice John O’Hara ruled that the man’s relationship with the two-year-old boy should take priority over the mother’s desire to move back to her native US with the child.

However, amid reservations about the man’s past conduct, the judge also warned that any future deterioration in his behaviour could lead to a renewed legal bid for permission to relocate.

He said: “In that event, the very narrow margin by which this application has been refused may well change.”

The father, referred to as Mr E, was appealing an earlier decision allowing the mother, Ms L, to set up home with their son in the US.

Ms L had moved to Co Armagh after the two met and wed in the US. But following the birth of their son, referred to as S, they split up and were eventually divorced, due to Mr E’s alleged unreasonable behaviour.

In a newly published judgment, the judge set out how Mr E had occasionally engaged in bouts of binge drinking, despite becoming incontinent after more than three drinks.

“Quite why a grown man with that problem would still go out and take drink is more than difficult to understand,” the judge said.

When seen by a consultant psychiatrist for the legal case, Mr E said he had abstained from drinking the night before playing golf due to worries about the effect alcohol has on his game.

“This insight is astonishingly limited and unbelievably late in dawning on him,” the judge noted.

The court heard how the Mr E drank heavily the night before his son’s christening, resulting in a major row with Ms L over his behaviour and lack of control.

It was claimed that he also responded to her backing out of attending a wedding event by threatening to stop her going on a trip to the US with their son.

“This threat was entirely inappropriate and suggests a man who has limited tolerance for the entirely reasonable views of others,” the judge stated.

The court heard that, in 2013, after the couple broke up, Mr E allegedly sent his ex-wife an email to say he should have put as much energy into their marriage as he did into his hobbies.

He was said to have blamed his drinking for causing problems, describing it as a “monster” in his life.

Opposing his ex-wife’s relocation plans, Mr E argued it would be best for their son to be raised in Northern Ireland and be cared for by both parents, despite their divorce.

He claimed that, even though it would mean the mother has to remain in the country against her wishes, that is secondary to the boy’s interests.

Improved behaviour

Backing his case, the judge acknowledged improvements in the man’s behaviour over the last year.

Regular contact between father and son has been arranged on an increasingly civilised basis, the judge said.

The judge held that, for as long as Mr E continues to behave as he has done in the last year, it is not in S’s best interests to have the relationship with his father “weakened” by a move to the US.

“Accordingly, I allow the appeal and refuse the mother’s application to remove S from the United Kingdom, ”the judge said.

Acknowledging his verdict would disappoint Ms L, he praised her love and devotion to her son.

“I accept that at present her life here, away from her family, is more isolated than she wants,” he said in a judgment given in April but only released now. “The fact is, however, that the relationship between S and his father is a very important one.

“Quite rightly and fairly she has acknowledged the unexpected improvement in the father’s attitude and conduct in the last year.

“At this time that relationship is one which, in the best interests of S, should be given priority over [Ms L’s] desire to relocate to the United States. ”