Emmerdale fans have been gripped in recent weeks by a child abduction storyline involving newborn baby Seb. For those who don’t tune in, mum Rebecca White was planning to take Seb to Australia to keep dad Robert out of his life. A suspicious Robert enlisted the help of a private investigator and discovered that the White family were planning a secret flit. In a bid to stop his son being taken away, Robert snatched Seb while the family were preparing to leave for the airport and sped away in his car. The family pursued him resulting in a devastating car crash.
Both Robert and Rebecca would have benefitted from some early legal advice to prevent this tragic scenario. So, what would a lawyer have told them?
Assuming Robert is named on Seb’s birth certificate, he will have ‘parental responsibility’ for his son. Rebecca must therefore have Robert’s consent before taking Seb out of the country permanently. If Robert refused, Rebecca would have to apply to court for permission. She would need to persuade the court that it was in Seb’s best interests to move and would have to show that she had made detailed plans in terms of housing, employment etc in Australia.
If Rebecca decided to take Seb to Australia without Robert’s permission or a court order, she would be committing a criminal offence and Robert could seek the baby’s urgent return to the UK under an international treaty, the Hague Convention 1980.
Alternatively, if Rebecca was concerned that Seb was at risk from Robert, she could ask the court to make various orders to protect both her and the baby.
There are various practical and legal steps that Robert would have been advised to take to prevent Seb being taken away. These include the following:
- Asking the local police station to make a ‘Port Alert’ for Seb. This would add Seb’s name to a list held at all UK ferry ports and airports warning officials that this child is not to be removed from the country.
- Applying to court for a ‘prohibited steps order’ to prevent Rebecca from taking Seb abroad. If Rebecca breached the order she could be found in contempt of court and face a fine or imprisonment.
- If Robert was concerned that Seb was to be abducted imminently (i.e. within a few days), he could ask the court to make orders allowing the police to go to Rebecca’s house and seize her and Seb’s passports to prevent them travelling. He could also ask the court to make a Port Alert and an order preventing further passports being issued for Seb.
- Contacting the UK Passport Agency to check whether any passport applications had been made for Seb. If Robert already had possession of Seb’s passport, he could hide it in a safe place to prevent Rebecca taking it.
Robert could have found other helpful information on the Reunite website, a specialist child abduction charity, at http://www.reunite.org.
If you are in a similar position to Robert or Rebecca and need advice, please contact one of our specialist lawyers on 01392 421 777.