Re S Case: Intersection of International Child Abduction Law, Habitual Residence, and Child Welfare Concerns

Citation: [2023] EWHC 2717 (Fam)
Judgment on


The case of Re S (1980 Hague Convention; Habitual Residence; Article 13) represents a judicial analysis intersecting international child abduction law, habitual residence concept, and child welfare considerations. The Honourable Mr Justice Cobb methodically applies various legal principles stemming from the 1980 Hague Convention on The Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“the 1980 Hague Convention”) in assessing claims of wrongful removal or retention, habitual residence, consent, acquiescence, the child’s objections, and potential risk of harm.

Key Facts

The case revolves around a 9-year-old child, ‘S’, who moved from Japan to England with her father and became the subject of a Hague Convention application by the mother for a summary return to Japan. The father and the child opposed the application. Key events highlight allegations of physical and psychological abuse by the mother, varied intentions and assertions about the child’s residence, and concerns over the mother’s behavior.

Habitual Residence

Habitual residence, a pivotal determination in Hague Convention cases, is understood as the child’s life integration degree in a particular environment. The court must concentrate on the child’s situation, evaluating the stability and voluntariness of residence, parental intent, and the child’s adjustment to the new surroundings. The evidence led Justice Cobb to determine that by the end of October 2022, ‘S’ had established habitual residence in England, thus negating wrongful retention under the Hague Convention.

The legal test for consent requires it to be “clear and unequivocal,” while acquiescence concentrates on the “actual state of mind” of the left-behind parent. The court determined that although the mother periodically agreed to the child’s stay in England, her agreement was not consistent and unequivocal. Conversely, the court found that the mother acquiesced to the child’s residence in England post-October 2022, given her actions and inactions indicative of ‘going along’ with the retention.

Child’s Objections

The child’s objections to being returned must be genuine, and the child must be of a maturity level where their views merit consideration. The court identified that ‘S’ objected to returning to Japan due to her experiences with her mother. ‘S’ was deemed sufficiently mature to have her views appropriately regarded within the legal framework.

Grave Risk of Harm

Article 13(b) creates an exception where there is a grave risk that return would expose the child to harm or place them in an intolerable situation. The court found a grave risk of harm if ‘S’ were returned to Japan, considering her previous experiences of abuse and the mother’s current and historical behaviors. The proposed protective measures were deemed insufficient to mitigate this risk.


Justice Cobb concluded that multiple grounds — habitual residence establishment in England, acquiescence by the mother, ‘S’s objections to returning to Japan, and the grave risk of harm ‘S’ would face if returned — militated against issuing a return order to Japan. Justice Cobb exercised his discretion, indicating that, even in the presence of established Article 13 exceptions, the return order to Japan would not be granted.


The case of Re S is a crucial analysis of child welfare concerns layered within international abduction law. Justice Cobb’s application of legal principles illustrates the careful assessment necessary when adjudicating claims rooted in the 1980 Hague Convention, where child welfare and legal standards must be cohesively applied. Each aspect of the case — habitual residence, consent, acquiescence, the child’s voice, and risk assessment — was meticulously examined, reflecting the complexity and gravity inherent in cross-border custody disputes.