What is international child abduction? 

International child abduction is the unlawful removal or retention of a child outside of the jurisdiction in which they were habitually resident. Child abduction can be a criminal offence and civil remedies are also available. There are steps a parent can take if they think their child is at risk:

  • Preventative court orders can be made. A specific issue or prohibited steps order under the Children Act 1989, can prohibit a parent from taking their child out of the country and restrict the parent’s ability to take the child to certain places outside their home
  • A child arrangements order can regulate the child’s living arrangements.
  • The court can order restrictions regarding the issuing or keeping of passports.
  • Where the police are notified of a possible attempted abduction they can implement the port alert system which notifies all police forces and immigration officers of the risk.

What happens when an international child abduction has taken place

If an abduction has already taken place, there are various steps which should be taken on an emergency basis: 

  • Contact the police immediately as a criminal offence may have been committed. The police have powers to obtain information more quickly than other agencies and may be willing to work with law enforcement agencies in the country where the child has been taken. 
  • If the child has been abducted to a country which is a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention, it may be possible to apply to the UK Central Authority for the child’s summary return. The International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (“ICACU”) is the relevant authority if the child was habitually resident in England or Wales at the time of the abduction. 

What is the 1980 Hague Convention?

The 1980 Hague Convention is an international agreement designed to ensure the swift return of abducted children across international boundaries to the country they usually live in. If a child is abducted or retained in a country which is a signatory to this convention (most countries in Europe are signatories along with the USA, Australia and New Zealand), it can be relied upon when making an application for the return of the child.

Each participating state has its own central authority responsible for transmitting and receiving applications on behalf of left behind parents. Governments and courts in each signatory state work closely together to ensure that abducted children are returned to the country they usually live in as quickly as possible.

The convention enables the return of an abducted child unless there is a ‘grave risk’ to the child’s wellbeing if he or she is returned, and where a child who is sufficiently mature to have an opinion has a strong preference for remaining with the parent they are living with.

What if the child is taken to a country which is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention?

A joined-up approach may be required involving an application to the High Court under the court’s inherent jurisdiction. Wardship proceedings may also enable the court to apply pressure on a parent to return a child to the jurisdiction. It may also be necessary to take action in the court of the country where the child has been taken. We will be there to coordinate all of the steps required and to work alongside your lawyers in the other jurisdiction.

The importance of taking urgent specialist legal advice cannot be overstated in any instances of potential or actual international child abduction. 

Watson Morris Family Law

For further support an advice – contact the team at Watson Morris Family Law today. We specialise in all areas of family law.

Written by Peter Morris

September 28, 2022

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