Child custody cases become cross-border tussles

SINGAPORE - When his wife took their child out to "meet a friend", he did not suspect anything amiss.

After all, the Thai national did not take any luggage or clothes with her. It was only when she did not come home that he suspected that something was amiss.

James - he requested that we use just one name in case his wife or her friends read this article - only found out that his wife had left the country when he made a police report.

She left three years ago when their son was seven years old.

Now the 43-year-old is in a protracted legal battle involving both local and Thai courts.

Like James, more Singaporeans are getting caught up in cross-border child custody battles and lawyers say this could be a result of the rising number of Singaporean-foreigner marriages.

Indeed, by the end of 2012, about 40 per cent of Singaporeans are married to non-citizens and children from such marriages make up about 30 per cent of babies born every year.

Of these marriages, 159 broke down in 2011, while in both 2012 and last year, the corresponding figures were 141.

And when marriages break down, there is a chance that one party will flee with the child.

Just last month, a UK-based mother was sentenced to 10 weeks' jail after she was found guilty of entering Singapore illegally to take away her son. Her Singaporean husband had brought their son here despite a UK court order.

The 30-year-old woman landed via boat at a marina here and snatched the child from his grandparents. The police later found them and arrested the woman.

Lawyer Poonam Mirchandani, who has handled many of such cross-border cases, said in an earlier interview that about 70 per cent of such abductions are carried out by the mothers, especially when court processes are protracted and when they feel unfamiliar with the jurisdiction.

In most cases, it is the woman who leaves her home country to live overseas with her husband and when the marriage breaks down, it is not uncommon for her to want to return home with the children.

Ms Joanne Orton from UK-based group Reunite International Child Abduction CentreĀ­ - which helps parents find missing spouses and kids - says the organisation see over 500 new cases a year.

Its board chairman and a leading authority on international child abduction, Ms Anne-Marie Hutchinson, and its chief executive officer Alison Shalaby were in Singapore in December 2012 to talk to lawyers, judges and welfare groups about linking up and setting up a centre here - its first outside Britain.

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