Princess Haya v the Sheikh of Dubai: Child Welfare and Protective Orders
Princess Haya is the 45-year-old daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and the half-sister of King Abdullah of Jordan. In 2004 she married the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who is also the Vice-President and Prime Minster of the UAE. The Princess is his sixth wife and mother of two of his 23 known children.
In April of this year, Princess Haya fled Dubai with her two children seeking political asylum in the UK. It is believed that she was in fear for her life after discovering disturbing information regarding the alleged forced return to Dubai of one of her stepdaughters, Sheikha Latifa, who attempted to flee last year.
The Princess issued court proceedings in the Family Division of the High Court. On Tuesday 30 July Princess Haya appeared at the Royal Courts of Justice in London for a two-day hearing with the president of the Family Courts Division presiding. The Princess and the Sheikh both had legal representation but the Sheikh himself did not appear.
It was revealed that the Princess applied for a non-molestation order (an order sought by those claiming to be victims of domestic abuse) for herself and applied for a forced marriage protection order (an order used to prevent forced marriages from taking place or to protect those already in a forced marriage) for one of her children. According to the Ministry of Justice, the use of such orders in the UK has been increasing and in the first quarter of this year alone, 126 forced marriage protection orders were issued. Both of these applications are still to be decided.
The Sheikh applied for custody of his children which is still to be decided and he applied for the children to be summarily returned to the UAE which was denied. The Judge ordered wardship meaning they are wards of the English courts and must remain here until the applications are decided. Their names, ages and genders cannot be published for their protection.
The final hearing on the matter will be later in the year, currently listed for 11 November. It is believed that the hearing in November could shed light on the treatment of women in the UAE particularly when it comes to marriage.
Child Welfare: UK vs UAE
In the UK and the UAE, the law recognises that the welfare of the children is the priority. Under Sharia law for separated or divorced parents, the mother will generally have custody of children until they reach a certain age. This is because young children, especially girls, rely a great deal on their mothers more than their fathers. During this period, the parents may agree a visitation schedule; however, the mother may have to ensure she is living within a certain distance of the father so that his access and visitation can be flexible and uncomplicated.
Once the children reach age 11 for boys and 13 for girls, the father can apply to become their permanent custodian with visitation awarded to the mother. Again, the parents may agree a visitation schedule or it may be the father chooses not to make the application straightaway and allows the mother to remain custodian. Being the children’s custodian will generally include making key decisions about their lives including education and marriage. Therefore, once the children reach an age where they are less reliant on their mother, the father will become their custodian in order to make those key decisions. If the mother disputes this change of custody, the likelihood of her success is slim especially given the father is often seen to be solely responsible for the financial welfare of the children.
In the UK, it is recognised that both parents should be involved in a child’s life as much as possible whilst also bearing in mind the lifestyle and timetable the child is used to. The welfare of the child is paramount and not the parents’ relationship with each other. In an ideal world, this means separated or divorced parents share custody of their children equally but this is rarely realistic and in practice, parents will often agree a visitation schedule.
Many believe that a mother is favoured with custody but this is not necessarily the case. In fact, if a parent poses a threat to the child’s safety or wellbeing or is not able to care for the child for whatever reason, regardless of whether they are the mother or the father, the courts will determine custody or visitation as necessary for the child’s safety and wellbeing. Independent bodies such as the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) are often used to help the court determine what the safest course may be.
Watch this space for updates on the case!