Ireland’s top court rules girl in custody case must go back to Latvia

In a case that reached all the way to Ireland’s Supreme Court, a 5-year-old girl has been ordered returned to Latvia, where her parents are involved in a custody dispute.

The Supreme Court in a May 20 judgment upheld a High Court ruling that the girl be returned to her father, who claims the mother took the child to Ireland without his consent. The mother, on the other hand, has said in court documents that she fears for her daughter’s psychological and physical well-being should the girl be returned to her father.

At issue in the case, identified as A.Bu. v. J.Be., was the child’s “habitual residence”—whether her home is in Latvia with her father or in Ireland with her mother.

The Supreme Court dismissed the mother’s appeal of the High Court decision, finding that under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspect of International Child Abduction the girl’s home is in Latvia. However, the Supreme Court also made it clear that it is not ruling on the issue of custody, because that is a matter for Latvian courts to decide.

“Obviously it would be better for the child if she was exposed to as little trauma as possible as decisions regarding custody and access are made,” Justice Susan Gageby Denham wrote in the court’s judgment.

According to court documents, the parents were never married but shared custody of their daughter until 2007, when the mother moved to Ireland, leaving the girl with her father in the Limbaži district of Latvia. The mother would return to Latvia on occasion and spend time with her daughter.

In June 2008, the mother on one of the visits to Latvia took her daughter back to Ireland, apparently without the father’s knowledge or consent. She returned the girl in September 2008.

The mother filed for sole custody of her daughter in January 2009, but the father made a counterclaim the following month. In March 2009, the mother again returned to Latvia for a visit with her daughter, but then took the child with her to Ireland, where she has been living since. The father again said his daughter was taken without his consent, but the mother said she and the father had an oral agreement that she would get custody of the girl.

In May 2009, the father contacted the Latvian Ministry of Children, Family and Integration Affairs and legal proceedings were initiated in Ireland demanding that the girl be returned to him. In March of this year, the case landed before the High Court.

Arguing that her daughter should not be returned to Latvia, the mother told the High Court that the father “does not really care about the child and that he is only maintaining these proceedings to punish the [the mother] for not sending home more money by way of child support,” according to court documents. The mother also claimed that the father is an alcoholic, is verbally abusive to her and “only allows her to see the child in return for sexual favours.” In addition, the mother noted her concern that the father insists on the daughter sharing his bed.

To support her claim, the mother submitted a psychotherapist’s report from Latvia. However, the High Court questioned the reliability of the report, noting that the father was never interviewed by the psychotherapist. In a judgment written by Justice John A. Edwards, the High Court also said it was “significant that while the report speaks at some length about the tensions and stresses in the couple’s relationship and the fact that the child seems aware of these there is no mention of the applicant having problems with alcohol, of verbal abuse, or of inappropriate sleeping arrangements.”

Upholding the High Court’s judgment, the Supreme Court ruled the mother has not proven that returning the girl to Latvia would expose her to grave risk.

In a separate judgment, the Supreme Court also ruled that it would not hear from the 5-year-old girl herself because, given her age and maturity, it would be inappropriate to do so. The mother claimed that her daughter does not want to leave Ireland.

The father, meanwhile, has offered to vacate an apartment he has in Latvia to let the mother and their daughter to stay there until the custody case is settled. He also has offered to pay for the girl’s airline ticket back to Latvia and to provide EUR 285 monthly in child support to the mother.

In Latvia, the parents’ custody case is scheduled to be heard June 1.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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