A Little Bit Longer: A Jonas Brother, Stark Realities And Children 

Published on 02 October, 2023 | Emma Dewhurst

As stark as it may seem, divorce is very much a fact of modern life.

The most recent data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 113,505 opposite-sex and same-sex married couples parted in 2021 (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/divorce/bulletins/divorcesinenglandandwales/2021).

Although that figure is almost one-third lower than the all-time high recorded in 1993 (165,018), it still illustrates the frequency with which husbands and wives are unable to overcome their difficulties and sustain their relationships.

When those couples have children, the degree of sensitivity and emotion is increased.

If those married couples are not only parents but celebrities whose private and public lives attract the scrutiny of the press, the complications can be multiplied.

One such case has come to the fore in recent weeks and involves the US pop star Joe Jonas and his British-born actress wife, Sophie Turner, who is best known for her role as Sansa Stark in the hit television series ‘Game of Thrones’.

The demise of their marriage has put the couple’s two daughters at centre stage.

Ms Turner has reportedly claimed that Mr Jonas wrongfully retained the children in the US in breach of an agreement to return them back to the UK.

She is said to have claimed that the children have been living in the UK since April this year following a joint decision by their parents to have them raised and educated here.

A dispute arose when Ms Turner alleged that Mr Jonas failed to return the girls to the UK from the US, where they had been staying while she was filming a new drama on this side of the Atlantic.

The matter generated additional tension when Mr Jonas filed for divorce, something Ms Turner maintains she only learned from news stories.

Media in the UK and US have now described how the couple have agreed that the children should provisionally stay in North America while the question of where they will live in the long-term is resolved (https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/sophie-turner-joe-jonas-children-custody-battle-b2418510.html).

At the heart of the row is the issue of habitual residence.

It is a concept which is very fact-specific but, broadly speaking, refers to the place which might be regarded as a child’s home.

A Court of Appeal ruling in 2020 went further, with Mr Justice Moylan observing in that particular case that it was constituted by a child having “a sufficient degree of integration into a social and family environment” (https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/M-children-habitual-residence-judgment-250820.pdf).

Arguments about habitual residence are not unusual and tend to surface whenever there are disagreements about the possible relocation of children and their resident parent, either on a permanent basis or for holidays.

Relatively few end up with action being taken – like that by Ms Turner – under the terms of the Hague Convention (https://www.hcch.net/en/instruments/conventions/full-text/?cid=24).

They are more often resolved in England and Wales by one of two types of court orders.

A Specific Issue Order (SIO) is a positive step, applied for by a parent who intends to do something in the future, whereas a Prohibited Steps Order (PSO) is to prevent a parent taking a certain action.

Last year, both orders were the subject of just under 26,000 applications by parents (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/family-court-statistics-quarterly-april-to-june-2023/family-court-statistics-quarterly-april-to-june-2023#mental-capacity-act—court-of-protection).

Even so, family courts generally do not like to become embroiled in the fine detail of a child’s upbringing.

The relevant legislation – the Children Act 1989 – states, in fact, that making an order is something of a last resort and only be done if it is in a child’s best interests (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/section/1).

In my opinion, it is not unusual for a divorced parent to be unwilling or unable to trust their ex but it is important that any resistance doesn’t end up impacting on their children.

That includes not unreasonably withholding permission for a child to travel abroad unless, of course, there are genuine suspicions that the former partner will not return them.

Given that courts are reluctant to be involved except where absolutely necessary, it is best to be as clear as possible in advance of any travel plans rather than unpicking the issue thereafter.

Putting an informal agreement in place by e-mail or text may not be binding – as a court order is – but can be persuasive contemporaneous evidence if problems subsequently arise.

There is a wealth of case law underlining the importance of striking a balance between whatever personal antipathy there might be for a partner and what is right for a child.

It can not only help overcome immediate friction but form the basis of heathy family relations well into the future.

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