An Irish judge has refused to allow two young boys return to their father in New York and ordered that they remain with their Estonian mother in Ireland.
The mother had fled America with the boys, aged nine and seven, in 2010 after their father had refused to undergo therapy.
The complicated case came before the Supreme Court in Dublin when the five judges confirmed that the two boys had "expressed a clear desire" to remain in Ireland with their mother.
The Court ruled that it was in the best interest of the boys that they remain in Ireland with their mother after the father had appealed against a High Court ruling in his bid to have them returned to New York.
Chief Justice Susan Denham described the "exceptional" circumstances in which the views of the children could "result in a refusal to return them to the country in which they normally lived."
She added: “There is a growing understanding of the importance of listening to a child.”
According to media reports, the chief justice stated that the core issue in the case concerned Article 13 of the Hague Convention on Child Abduction, which provides a court may refuse to return a child to their country of habitual residence if the child objects to being returned and where the child has reached an age and degree of maturity where it is appropriate and valid to take account of their view.
The Supreme Court heard that the couple had married in 2002 with their two boys born in 2002 and 2004. The marriage then ran into difficulties in 2005 when the mother left her husband and secured a temporary custody and protection order from the New York family court.
After the father had filed for divorce proceedings, the
the mother applied to suspend access between the father and children pending investigation by children’s services.
She secured a decree of divorce and sole custody of the children and the father was refused access rights at a New York family court case in 2007, which the father did not attend.
He enjoyed supervised visits with the children in 2009 but these were suspended in early 2010 when a court-appointed agency, which observed his weekly access visits, advised against further access unless he agreed to submit to therapy, which he refused.
The mother fled from New York with her children in the summer of 2010. She first went home to Estonia then moved to Ireland to live beside her married sister.
When the mother failed to appear at a Supreme Court of New York case in late 2010, the judge there ordered that legal custody of the children be transferred to the father. The father then sought the return of the children under the Hague Convention but bid was refused by Ireland’s High Court.
Ireland’s Supreme Court has now dismissed that application, noting that during assessment by a child psychiatrist, both boys had expressed a clear desire to remain living in Ireland with their mother.