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Divorce proceedings of a UK citizen abroad

Volume 609: debated on Tuesday 3 May 2016

The petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that Mrs Sian Mitchell moved to the United States of America where she married a US citizen with whom she has a son; further that divorce proceedings are currently in motion and Mrs Mitchell has been ordered by the courts in California to remain in the State with her son until proceedings have been resolved; and further that the petitioners believe that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Government should offer as much support and assistance to her as possible so she can return to the United Kingdom.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Government to make representations to the US Government and the State of California to press the issue and get a resolution to the problem at the earliest possible stage so that Mrs Mitchell can return to the United Kingdom with her son as soon as possible.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Gavin Williamson, Official Report, 15 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 1523.]


Observations from the The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): On Tuesday 8 March 1 met Mrs Mitchell’s mother, Ms Debra Morgan and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) to better understand the situation and explore what consular assistance we may be able to provide. I am sympathetic to Mrs Mitchell’s situation and am keen that my officials provide all necessary support to her and her son.

I explained to my right hon. Friend that in line with our consular policy we cannot offer or pay for legal advice. My officials have provided Mrs Mitchell with details of the California State Bar Association, our recommended route to securing legal representation, and I am pleased that Mrs Mitchell does have an attorney representing her.

It is a key tenet of both the United Kingdom and the United States that courts are not subject to improper influence and it is important that the FCO respects this. The British Government cannot interfere in US judicial matters and it would be highly inappropriate for us to take a partisan interest in an ongoing civil legal case.

The petition requests the assistance of the FCO in order that Mrs Mitchell can return to the UK with her son at the earliest opportunity. As there are ongoing court proceedings and the United States is party to the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, we are unable to issue an Emergency Travel Document for Mrs Mitchell’s son without the consent of Mr Mitchell until the conclusion of these proceedings. We consider each application on its own merits but in these circumstances there would need to be compelling reasons, such as an imminent threat to the life of the mother or child, put forward by the applicant for us to consider issuing a travel document against this established protocol, in particular where there is also a California court order that the child remains in the state until the divorce process is concluded.