International Child Abduction
When anyone connected with the child (but usually the parent) takes a child over an international border and thereby away from their place of habitual residence without the permission of those with Parental Responsibility (usually the other parent), this is considered to be international child abduction and can cause a good deal of confusion and distress for the other parent or carer.
Those required to give their consent would be the mother, the father (if he has parental responsibility), guardian, special guardian or anyone who has the child living with them or has permission from the court.
The Hague Convention & European Convention
The UK is a signatory and bound by the regulations set out in The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and the European Convention. This is an agreement by a network of countries (referred to as convening states) to work together in order to deal with situations where a child aged under 16 has been wrongfully taken from their habitual residence (country of residence) to another without the other parent’s permission or legal authority to do so.
The Convention is not able to enter into custody disputes or get involved in the legal dealings regarding a custody case, instead its regulations seek to ensure the swift return of the child to their country of residence in order that the court in their country of residence can make the appropriate orders regarding the child. They do not work explicitly to return the child to the other parent but rather to their country of residence where any applications by either party can be properly considered by the court of that jurisdiction.
The European Convention covers most of the European States while the Hague Convention has a broader geographical scope. To date 69 states are signed up to either treaty.
The court of the jurisdiction the child is abducted to, when considering an application for return to the child’s place of habitual residence, has discretion to refuse to return a child under some circumstances including:
- If it can be proved that the person or institution having the care of the child did give their consent to the removal or was not exercising the custody rights at the time of removal.
- There is a risk that return could expose the child to grave risk of physical or psychological harm.
- If a child has been wrongfully removed for more than one year in exceptional cases it can be argued that the child is settled in their new environment and removal would not be in their best interests.
In some states if the child has reached sufficient maturity and states they do not wish to be returned this can be prohibitive.
It is therefore vital, in the case of any international child abduction, to seek legal advice swiftly and act immediately to ensure the best chance of your child’s return.
Child Abduction To A Non Hague Convention Country
Tracing and returning a child from a non-Hague Convention country is more difficult since there may be very little in the way of protocol to assist you.
As in all cases of parental child abduction you must first contact the police, an experienced family solicitor and in this case Reunite. In addition to this you should contact the Child Abduction Section of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on 0207 008 0878 (office hours) or 0207 008 1500 (out of office hours). They can tell you whether the country your child has been taken to is within the Hague Convention or not and advise you further.
Where a child has been taken to a non-Hague Convention country, you must apply for custody and permission to bring your child home in the overseas court rather than in your country of residence. The Foreign Office can offer the following assistance:
- Provide a list of lawyers who speak English (note this is no recommendation or guarantee of professional competence).
- Carry out a welfare report on the child if the other parent consents.
- Contact relevant overseas authorities to express their interest in the case and to check the progress being made in finding the child.
- Provide you with travel, accommodation and translation advice.
- In exceptional circumstances attend court hearings abroad.
- Locate the child if you do not know their whereabouts.
- Assist in any illegal efforts to rescue the child.
- Interfere with the legal system of another country.
Prevention is better than cure, especially in the case of children being taken to non-Hague convention countries. The following pages contain advice on how to prevent your child from being abducted if you can.
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