What is international child abduction?
Perhaps not what you think.
International child abduction, more often than not, occurs when parent one (let’s say the Mother) moves with her children from country A (where she had previously been living with the children and parent two -let’s say the Father) to country B, without the Father’s consent or permission from the court. This is likely to be an “unlawful removal”.
International child abduction can also occur when Mother remains in country B after a holiday or pre-arranged trip, without the Father’s consent. This is likely to be an “unlawful retention”.
International child abduction is a criminal offence, but it is extremely rare for a parent found to have unlawfully removed a child to the UK, or retained a child in the UK, to be prosecuted in England – there are no reported cases that we are aware of at the time of writing.
What to do if you have removed your child to another country without the other parent’s consent?
You should immediately contact a solicitor with expertise in international child abduction work.
You may have been served with a court application and/or a court order telling you that you must attend at the High Court in a few days’ time and/or return the child to Country A. The police may have attended your house and seized your and your child’s passport. Do not panic. Do take legal advice.
It may be that you have not received court proceedings from the “left behind” parent’s solicitor in Country A, but are concerned about how to protect your position now that you are in Country B. Again, it is advisable to see a solicitor with the necessary expertise as soon as possible. You and your solicitor have a confidential relationship, and therefore your solicitor is not going to make a report to the court or to the police about the recent events.
There are a number of defences to international child abduction in most cases, which can allow the English court not to order the return of a child. A solicitor with the necessary expertise will advise you about the defences and how they could apply to your case.
What about contact/ calls with the left behind parent?
It is generally advisable to maintain contact with the “left behind” parent and facilitate him or her speaking to the children regularly.
What to do if your child is about to be, or has been removed from England and Wales without your consent?
Act immediately even if the proposed removal is not immediately imminent itself (for example Parent one has told you she is taking the children to live in Country B with her own parents, i.e. the children’s grandparents, at the end of the school term).
Contact the police immediately and explain that you are worried your child has been or is about to be abducted to another country. Ask to speak to a specialist police officer or senior member of staff. Write down a description of your child (name, age, height, hair colour, eye colour, build etc.) and get a recent photograph to provide to the police (and your solicitor).
The police may be able to help you by putting on a “port alert” if you believe your child may still be in the country.
After speaking to the police, contact a family solicitor with expertise to help you apply to court. It is possible to make applications for court orders in emergency cases outside of hours. If your child has already been removed to Country B or is being retained in Country B, your solicitor will be able to help you with the necessary steps you need to take to try and secure the prompt return of your child home.
At Rayden Solicitors, Katherine Rayden, Priya Palanivel, Jennifer Moore and Katie Chew are members of the Child Abduction Lawyers’ Association. We offer expert and confidential legal advice on international child abduction matters.