Grace Bradley, award-winning solicitor at The Family Law Company considers a recent case of parental child abduction
The catastrophic effects of parental child abduction and the need to act swiftly when it occurs became very clear in a recent case involving two British children “abducted” to Alaska. The British parents separated in 2012 and the two children lived with their mother. She met her new partner, an American settled in Alaska, became pregnant and married him. She sought permission from the English courts to relocate the children to Alaska, which was refused. Despite this she took the children to Alaska in 2015.
What does the law say?
When one parent takes a child from the country of its everyday residence without the consent of all those with “rights of custody” or without the consent of the court, this is wrongful removal.
What could the father do to recover the children?
Alaska and England are signatories to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which exists to secure the swift return of abducted children. The father could have issued urgent Hague proceedings in the US; instead in 2015 and 2016 he obtained orders from the English family courts and reported his ex-partner to the police for the criminal act of child abduction.
How did the scenario play out?
In April 2018, the mother was extradited to England to face criminal proceedings for her actions. The children remained in Alaska cared for by their step-father. The English High Court considered whether the orders previously made in the father’s favour should stand, including one permitting him to fetch the children from Alaska and take interim care of them if the mother was detained by the police.
The judge discharged the orders; they had been overtaken by time, events and the fact that the father hadn’t pressed for the children’s return in the US despite knowing their address. The judge also commented on how emotionally damaging the situation was for the children, cut off not only from their father but also their mother, now in custody in England.
The court later determined that the Alaskan courts should decide any future residence/contact issues as the children had been settled there for almost 3 years.
What should I do if my children have been or might be abducted?
Act quickly if you suspect child abduction may occur or has happened. Child abduction proceedings are complex and fast-moving. As specialists, The Family Law Company acts for mothers or fathers on either side of the case, offering fast, pragmatic advice, whatever the circumstances.
The Family Law Company and Grace Bradley are on the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee and REUNITE panel of child abduction solicitors. Contact Grace at [email protected] for further information.