The breakdown of a relationship is difficult at the best of times – but when there’s a child (or children) from the relationship and one or both parents have differing ties to the UK, the challenges may be tenfold. A whole host of concerns may go through a parent’s mind, particularly if it’s an acrimonious break-up or there have been allegations of domestic abuse (possibly even cross-allegation of domestic abuse).
I am worried my former partner may take my child out of the country. What if my former partner does not return my child to England? What can I do?
This is a common scenario we encounter and can support in minimising any risk of abduction should this be needed.
Child Abduction and The Law
Rest assured, if you hold Parental Responsibility, family law prohibits your former partner from taking your child out of the country without your express agreement. Unfortunately, this cannot in itself stop them from actually taking the child out of the country i.e. nobody at the airport will prevent travel. However, preventive steps can be taken to remove the risk of abduction. This is how we can support you.
Top Tips to Prevent Your Child Being Abducted After a Separation
If there’s a real and imminent concern that your former partner could abduct the child, action can be taken. Simply because a parent is not British, or a relationship has recently broken down is not sufficient evidence in support of reasonable abduction concerns. The age of the child, the length of time the parent has lived in the UK, and the perceived flight risk are important factors. Equally, the country the child may be abducted to may be highly relevant – i.e. the process of returning an abducted children from France may be far more straightforward than if the child has been abducted to say Saudi Arabia.
We cannot stress enough how crucial ‘case building’ is at this point. Any evidence in support of your concerns (emails, WhatsApp etc) may be critical. If the concern isn’t immediate but linked to a forthcoming event (e.g. a school term ending), a pre-action letter through solicitors should be sent seeking your former partner’s agreement not to remove the child from England and to surrender the child’s passport(s). A Judge later considering an application is likely to be most interested in the attempts that were made to deal with these matters outside of Court.
Attempts by your former partner to ‘muddy the water’ with disputes over contact arrangements, doubts as to your parenting capacity, or allegations of domestic abuse are frequently encountered but shouldn’t be relevant. If your former partner has refused very simple and reasonable requests to lower your abduction concerns (whether he / she accepts them or not), a Judge is unlikely to be impressed with their conduct and subsequent opposition to Court Orders you may be seeking.
The child’s passport is the most immediate issue which should be addressed. Practically speaking, it is difficult although not impossible to take a child out of the country without their passport. If you have the passport, make sure you keep hold of it. Approach with extreme caution any request from your former partner for the passport.
If your child has more than one passport, the same concerns apply to all passports.
If your former partner has the passport, a request should be made for it to be kept by a third party (i.e. solicitors) not to be released without both parents’ written agreement or an Order of the Court.
If your former partner refuses, you may need to obtain a Passport Order from the High Court. Here, the Tipstaff (enforcement officers of the Court) will seize the passport from your former partner if it’s not surrendered voluntarily.
There may be a risk that your former partner may simply obtain a new passport. An accompanying Order can be obtained for the British Passport Office not to issue any further passports for the child; similarly, Orders can be obtained requesting a foreign consulate in the UK not to issue any further passports and / or travel documents for the child. We can support in leading on these steps.
A further risk may remain in such circumstances as the foreign consulate isn’t governed by English law and thus not bound by an English Order. Depending on circumstances, your former partner may be asked to surrender his / her passport also. The purpose here is to lower the risk of abduction as much as we can; it may not be possible to entirely remove the risk.
Prohibited Steps Order
As your solicitors, we can seek an undertaking (a promise on oath) that your former partner will not remove the child from England without your written agreement. If your former partner refuses, a Prohibited Steps Order can be obtained prohibiting him / her from removing the child from England without a Court Order.
If the child’s whereabouts is an issue, a Location Order and / or Collection Order may also be necessary allowing the Tipstaff to locate and / or collect a child. If such Orders are made, an accompanying Port Alert Order is automatically made meaning your child’s details will flag up if he / she passes through the UK Border Force.
You should also consider contacting the police. They have powers to locate a child and issue Port Alerts if necessary. Child Abduction is a criminal offence.
Remember to try and stay calm and approach abduction concerns with a sense of caution and planning. Specialist legal advice is essential. Missteps, no matter how well intentioned, may only result in tipping off or panicking your former partner and then him / her removing your child from the country before you can do anything about it.
At Rayden Solicitors, we can assist you immediately. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’re frightened that your former partner may take your child (either permanently or temporarily) to another country or if you would like to discuss your specific circumstances with a specialist.