It's now over two years since my ex attempted a leave to remove case on our son (5 years old at the time) and I finally feel I can post about the experience in the hope that it will help another father.
In short, it was a very stressful year of solicitor/barrister bills, social worker visits, court appearances and hard work (writing statements, gathering evidence, etc).
I won and he is now staying in the UK (with a court order to back it up!), so I wanted to share some key points to anyone else who finds themselves in the same position with an ex applying for leave to remove a child:
Get a good solicitor (I highly recommend mine, DM me if you want details), BUT, accept that solicitors don't know everything about leave to remove. I discovered that it's relatively rare and as solicitors don't spend much time in court themselves many of the questions I asked were only able to be answered with common sense guesses (so if money is tight, ask yourself first if you do really need to ask the solicitor the answer to every question that pops into your head)
Don't allow the published test cases to scare you. It's important to read them and note the main points judges are looking for (you can get the list from a google search), but there have been so few test cases published, and most of them have been published because they were so extreme as to be public interest/going to higher courts, so don't let them scare you - many leave to remove cases are refused every year!
If money is tight, you can probably get away without having a barrister at the first and second hearings. They're really pedestrian friendly and essentially come down to discussions on dates (first one) and extra evidence (second one). As long as you're a relatively sensible/articulate person you're unlikely to do too much damage without a barrister at the first two. Just make sure you go in knowing what you want (how long do you want to write your statement?, do you want to submit any extra evidence, etc). You do need (ideally) a barrister for the final hearings though, so save your money for a good one at those.
Don’t write too much/any real detail at all in your initial responses to the applicant for the court. Save this for your big written statement after theirs. If you write too much early on in the process (I.e. before the first hearing) then it will just tell the other side how you’re planning to respond which might change what they say in their statement. No decisions get made until after your big written statement, the social worker’s report and the final hearing, so keep it light before you’ve seen the applicant’s full statement!
As above, be carful with the offer of things like mediation. You don’t want the applicant to be able to use this as a fact finding mission about your response/arguments before they write their statement. Be very careful what you say/share about your response before you see the applicant’s full written statement!
Spend time reading and making notes on the written statement of the applicant - remember, your response doesn't need to be the best document ever, it just needs to be better than their document! Stick to facts and reasoned arguments, not your emotions. You need to think like a police officer analysing evidence, not writing a creative writing piece about how much you love your children.
Trawl the applicant's social media for evidence to include (start screen grabbing now if you think an application if possible in the future too!) - if they claim they're isolated but have loads of pictures of them at parties include them as evidence, if they claim they can't get work but their LinkedIn shows they have a good work history, include it!
Whether your social worker is cafcass or an ISW (private social worker) just be nice and straight with them, if you're telling the truth about having a close relationship with your child then they'll believe you.
Social workers are generally very much in favour of the father in my experience, so don't stress toomuch about this bit - just be carful what you say, don't attack the applicant - you need to show that you're both good parents, bring different things to your child's happiness and that it would be sad for the child if they were taken away from you. It's all about the child, not about you.
Maximise your time with your child, make sure you do school pick-ups yourself/have a good relationship with their teachers, etc. This sort of thing will make a big difference.
Finally, don't worry - looking back I wish I'd stressed about it less. The process will take its time, is expensive (if using solicitors/barristers) and stressful, but trust in your relationship with your child, your ability to knock down the applicant's statement with your own evidence and what you bring as a good father.
If you're a good father, with a good relationship with your child, then remember, you're not doing anything to hurt your child as the respondent, only the applicant is doing that - and the child will see that you fought for your relationship and the applicant fought to deprive them of one of their parents - so you have morality/your child's best interests on your side as the respondent!
Last edit: 25 Mar 21 by wikivorce team. Reason: Just formatting