International Child Abduction

An increasingly common problem arises when one parent unilaterally takes the children out of England and Wales, or retains the children here for longer than was agreed.

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The removal of a child from the United Kingdom without both parties’ consent (unless it is for a holiday of under 28 days and the parent concerned has a residence or child arrangements order in his or her favour) is a criminal offence. In addition, there are civil remedies available to obtain the children’s return from a jurisdiction outside the United Kingdom, or to obtain the delivery up of children who have been abducted to the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom is party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. A full list of countries that are members of the Hague Convention can be found at the Reunite website. These countries have all agreed to cooperate to facilitate the early return of such abducted children. The general principle is that any abducted children should be returned as soon as possible, so as to discourage “border hopping” with the children, on the basis the decision about the children’s future arrangement should be made by the court of the country of origin. There are exceptions to this, which we can advise on. If children have been taken to this country in breach of that Convention from another Convention country, Legal Aid may be available to a parent seeking the children’s return. The court has powers to seek and find the children, to order delivery of the children up to the court, and to order the retention of relevant passports for the duration of the proceedings.

If the abduction has been to a non-Convention country, various remedies may be available in the English court, including making the child a Ward of Court. This will have the effect of placing the child under the protection of the court, and he or she cannot be removed from the jurisdiction without its permission. Although the overriding concern of the court is the welfare of the child, these cases can be quite complicated. The factors the court will take into account will depend on the circumstances of the case and the country from which the children have been taken.

We are well versed in the various orders that can be obtained from the English court if the child has been wrongfully taken from this country to either a Hague Convention country or a non-Hague Convention country. Close liaison will be required with the lawyers in the foreign jurisdiction to ensure that the most helpful orders are obtained. We are also well placed to advise in those rare circumstances in which a parent considers it would be wrong to return children at the end of a holiday.