A mother who abducted her children and flew with them to Australia in an act of ‘deliberate cruelty’ to her husband has nevertheless been set on the road to redemption. Opening the way for her to return to the other side of the world with the children, despite her ‘abysmal’ behaviour and his sympathy for their wronged father, a senior family judge found that that would be in the children’s best interests.

Three days after the father told the mother that he wanted a divorce, she flew to Melbourne with the couple’s two children, aged two and three-and-a-half, without saying a word to him. He thought the children were at their nursery as usual, but their ‘high-handed, selfish and autocratic’ mother had quit her job and left her car keys behind her before they boarded the flight.

Mr Justice Mostyn said that it was ‘an open and shut case of child abduction’ in violation of the Hague Convention by the mother and her departure sparked an international legal dispute. After fighting his case through the Australian courts, the father eventually forced the mother to return to England with the children. However, he now faces having to move to the other side of the world himself after the judge opened the way for his wife to return to Australia with the children.

He said: “Child abduction seldom, if ever, has a happy ending. It has rightly been described as a form of child abuse. The mother’s conduct was abysmal. It was an act of deliberate cruelty to her husband, the father of her children. It was directly contrary to the interests of the children for them abruptly to have been removed from the society of their father. It has subjected them to two years of uncertainty while they have been taken across the world, back and forth. It has embroiled all members of the family in extensive litigation with days in court in both countries. It has brought the mother to the brink of bankruptcy. Yet it has not been until very recently that the mother has developed any self-awareness.”

However, going on to rule in the mother’s favour, the judge said: “It must be possible for the scales to fall from the eyes of someone in the wrong; for her to recognise her wrongdoing and to seek redemption.” Although the father was an honest and fair witness whose criticisms of the mother were fully justified, the judge noted that he was in a more stable financial position than the mother and his profession would make it relatively easy for him to find work in Australia.

He concluded: “The decision that I make is based from first to last on the interests of these children. I must shut out my strong feelings of sympathy for the father at the high-handed, selfish and autocratic way he has been treated by the mother and I must eschew any temptation to punish the mother for that conduct.” The judge emphasised that, on the family’s arrival in Australia, both mother and father will have equal contact rights in respect of the children.