When couples separate, most of the arrangements regarding children can usually be resolved between the parents amicably. However, in rare cases, the relationship between the parents may have broken down to such an extent that one parent feels compelled to abduct their child rather than risk losing them.
In this article Amanda Brown, family law expert with Family Law Group in Nottingham, explains what to do if your former partner has taken your child somewhere without your permission and is refusing to return them.
What is child abduction?
In simple terms, child abduction occurs where a child is wrongfully removed by one parent from the care of another.
There is no need for the child to have been taken abroad for abduction to have occurred, and indeed many abductions reported to the police and courts arise within the UK.
Examples of child abduction could include:
- Taking a child on holiday but failing to return them when agreed
- Having a child to stay for the weekend in accordance with an agreed contact plan but failing to hand them back at the end of the weekend
- Collecting a child from school without permission and flying them abroad
If you know or suspect that your child has been abducted, it is essential that you notify the police immediately and take urgent legal advice.
The role of the police in child abduction
If you know where your child is, the police may be able to assist in securing their return by putting you in touch with your former partner so you can talk things through. They can also carry out a ‘safe and well’ check to ensure that your child is in no immediate danger. The police are usually reluctant to do more than this, particularly if there is no court order in place setting out who the child should live with. This is because, without such an order, both parents are deemed to have equal rights, which makes it difficult for the police to determine what they should do.
Why you need a lawyer
If your child has been moved to another part of the UK by the other parent, even if their precise address is not known, your lawyer can help you make an urgent application to the court for their immediate return, pending a full hearing by the court to determine what should happen to your child in the longer term.
Most law firms specialising in family law have out-of-hours emergency contact numbers and a judge will hear cases outside of usual court opening hours if the matter is urgent.
If the whereabouts of your child is not known, your solicitor can apply for an order from the court which authorises an officer of the High Court to locate and collect them.
If there is a risk that your child may be taken abroad imminently, your solicitor can request a passport order, which permits a High Court officer to seize the travel documents of both the child and their potential abductor to stop them leaving the country.
If the court makes either a location order or a passport order, then an automatic port alert will be included which warns staff at airports and ferry terminals to be on the lookout for your child. Their name will be included on the child abduction warning list for the next 28 days and a message will be sent to all UK ports instructing the police to see if they can locate your child and their abductor.
What happens next?
Once the child has been returned, the court will consider the case in more detail and will ultimately make a decision as to which parent the child should live with and agree arrangements for them to see the other parent.
What if my child has already been taken abroad?
The procedure for the recovery of a child who has already been taken abroad depends on whether or not the country to which they have been taken is a signatory to the Hague Convention:
- If the country is a signatory, there are mechanisms in place to ensure the return of your child to the UK so that a court here can decide arrangements for the future; but
- If the country is not a signatory, your ability to secure your child’s return will depend on local laws and whether the courts in the country concerned wish to deal with the matter themselves.
For more advice on child abduction, or on any other family law matter, please contact Amanda Brown on 0115 945 4555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org