Dear Mrs Macaulay,
I have a fiancé in Jamaica who has a three-year-old daughter. The daughter has always lived with her father who cares for her, takes her to school, doctors, etc. As far as I'm aware the mother sees her daughter maybe once every few months, for maybe a night or two. Ideally, I would like the daughter to move to the UK with her father when we get married, but I'm a little confused as to what the process would be for us. Does her father need to make an application for custody, care and control in the Jamaican Family Court? Do I need to make an application also?
Yes, your fiancé should make his application in court for sole legal custody and the care and control of his daughter, with orders made therein for the mother's access to her daughter in specific terms. I would, however, suggest that the application be made in the Supreme Court so that you can also be included as an applicant for an order appointing you as the child's guardian. Such an application must be done in the Supreme Court as your appointment as guardian is not within the Family Court's jurisdiction. Going the Supreme Court route may take a longer period of time, so the proceedings must commence as quickly as possible. But if time is short, the application, apart from his and your affidavits in support of it, can also be supported by an affidavit of urgency to enable yours and his lawyer to arrange a quick date, taking into account the time needed for the serving of the application documents on the biological mother, and the statutory periods for her to acknowledge the service and file her response to it, if she chooses to do so.
You and your fiancé must disclose in your affidavits in support the intention and plan for his daughter to accompany him to the United Kingdom and to reside with him and you there. The affidavits must also disclose that you consent to this and agree that you will be assisting him with the care and control of the child, and with making all necessary provisions for her maintenance and development.
Since you have not given any dates for your plans, if time is truly very short then your fiancé can proceed immediately with his application for sole legal custody, care and control of his daughter in the Family Court, with specific access to her mother either in the UK, or by her daughter being brought back here to Jamaica, say during her summer school holidays, and also with Skype conversations once or twice a week, or as the court may order.
You can support his application with your own affidavit in support stating that as his wife, you will assist with her care and control and support for all her necessities. This can be a part of the orders made. This will give your position as a stepmother assisting with care and control a legal basis. You can then later, after you all have settled properly in the United Kingdom, apply to the court there to be appointed her guardian. Or, you may some years later, apply to adopt her if her biological father and mother so consent.
So, you and your fiancé must decide which of the above suggestions would best suit your timeline and go and retain a lawyer to act for you both and to ensure access to the biological mother. It would be up to her to decide whether she exercises her access as ordered or not.
You acted correctly and sensibly by sending this letter asking for answers to clarify your confusion about the legal process before you did anything. Having professional legal advice before you and your future husband acts will save you all a great deal of worry and stress.
I wish you the very best, and that you have a very successful marriage and a truly happy and settled family life together.
Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.