If your child has been taken abroad without your permission, or if there is a risk that could happen, it’s important to act quickly and get specialist legal help straight away.
There are dedicated international laws to deal with child abduction to make sure a child is returned home as soon as possible.
Whether you are trying to stop your child from being abducted, need to get your child back home after they have been abducted, or have been accused of child abduction, our specialist Child Abduction Solicitors can help you.
What Is Child Abduction?
Child abduction is when a child is moved across an international border without the right consent in place. Child abduction can happen by:
- Wrongful Removal – when a child is removed from a country without the right permission
- Wrongful Retention – where a child is kept in another country in breach of an agreement or without consent. In wrongful retention cases, it has usually been agreed that the child would travel, but isn’t returned home at the agreed time
Our Child Abduction Lawyers can help you if:
- You believe the other parent or a member of the family might be planning to take your child abroad without your consent
- Your child’s other parent or family member has already taken your child abroad (either out of the UK, or brought them to the UK) without your consent
- Your child has not been bought home after an agreed visit abroad
- You have been accused of abducting your child or being threatened with child abduction proceedings
Can A Parent Abduct Their Child?
Yes they can.
You may be surprised to learn that as a parent, you can abduct your own child, but if you are planning to go or stay abroad, it is crucial to have the right permission in place before you go, or you could face child abduction proceedings in the civil Court, and even criminal prosecution.
What Permission Do I Need To Take My Child Abroad?
It often depends on the law in the country where you are habitually resident. It also depends on who has parental rights, what those rights allow and whether there are any Court Orders in place.
If you are in any doubt about whether you need specific permission, you must check to avoid being accused of child abduction. To protect yourself, you should have consent from the other parent, along with anyone else who holds parental responsibility, in writing and copies of any agreements or Court Orders with you when you travel. Some countries have specific forms that must be completed.
What Can I Do If I Think My Child Might Be Abducted?
If you believe your child might be taken abroad by their other parent or another member of the family, there are practical steps you can take to minimise the risk. The child abduction charity Reunite has a useful list of things to consider.
You can get urgent Court Orders to stop your child being taken out of the country. They can be granted urgently, on short notice and in some circumstances, made without the other parent being aware until after Orders have been made.
If the risk of an abduction is imminent, you could also get a Port Alert, to try to block them leaving the country. Port Alerts are only granted in cases where the risk is very high, and immediate.
Our specialist Child Abduction Solicitors can help you decide which course of action is the right one for you, and gives you the right protection.
My Child Has Been Taken Abroad Without My Consent
If your child has already been taken abroad, there are special laws in place to help. Which laws apply depends on which countries are involved. But the aim is to return the child to their usual home, known as their place of habitual residence, as quickly as possible.
We can often use a special fast-track procedure to get before the Court urgently, to start the process of getting an Order so your child be returned home.
Sometimes, the urgent Court proceedings will take place in the country the child usually lives, otherwise they will be in the country the child has been taken to.
A Child Abduction Solicitor can explain your options and which procedure will apply in your case.
If the Court proceedings take place abroad, the “left behind” parent does not always have to travel to the country where the child is for Court proceedings to happen.
My Child Has Been Kept Abroad
If your child’s other parent or family member has not returned your child back home after an agreed trip abroad, this could be child abduction. The special laws on child abduction can help you get your child back home.
Our specialist Child Law Solicitors can advise you about whether you can make an urgent application to the Court to have your child returned, and whether those proceedings should take place in the UK, or in the country your child has been taken to.
As child abduction is a complex issue, it is important to get legal advice from a specialist Solicitor as soon as possible.
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What Can I Do If My Child Has Been Abducted?
It is always important to act quickly if your child has been taken or retained abroad (abducted). There are certain things that will help your legal proceedings:
- Speak to a specialist Solicitor quickly as it’s often easier to resolve if action is taken straight away
- Prepare as much information as you can about your child and who they are traveling with, including photographs
- Get as much information as you can about their travel plans, including where or when they travelled and any information you have about destination, contact numbers or specific tickets. If you don’t have details, think of anyone else who might know
- Try to keep a line of communication with your child and the people they are with. This often makes finding them easier
- Think carefully about what you say. The Court will look at what was and wasn’t agreed about where your child would be and when, so make sure your communications reflect your position accurately
- Think about whether you should ‘tip off’ the other parent that you are going to start urgent legal Sometimes, this will persuade them to cooperate, but it could make them cut communication or disappear, making them harder to find. If in doubt, be cautious.
I’ve Been Accused of Child Abduction
If you have been accused of abducting your child, or served with Court papers relating to child abduction, it is important to engage in the process.
Court Orders can be made urgently in child abduction cases, even if the person accused of abducting the child is not present. You can also be ordered to pay the other parent’s legal fees. If you don’t cooperate, the Court can make Orders against your family members or professional bodies such as bank, schools, government departments and mobile phone companies for disclosure of information about where you are.
Child abduction proceedings take place very quickly. A hearing will often be scheduled only a few days after you have received Court papers. Child Abduction Lawyers are experienced at working to urgent deadlines, but it is always important to get legal advice as quickly as possible, to give you the best chance to prepare.
If you have been accused of abducting your child, there are limited “defences” available and you will need specialist legal advice from a Child Abduction Lawyer to establish if you have a defence - if you do, your Lawyer can help you defend the proceedings.
If your child has to return home, your Lawyer can help you negotiate the terms of the return and in some cases, get an agreement the other parent won’t progress criminal prosecution.
Defences To Child Abduction
A parent seeking urgent return of a child will need to show they meet certain criteria, including:
- The child was habitually resident in the country they were taken from
- The removal or retention was without consent or legal authority
- That the parent has certain parental rights, known as “rights of custody”
If the left behind parent can meet these requirements, the Court will consider if any of these defences apply. The only defences are:
- The child is settled in the new jurisdiction.
- There was consent.
- There was reluctant acceptance, known as acquiescence.
- If returned, there is a grave risk of physical or psychological harm to the child or it will place them in an intolerable situation, known as the “13(b)” defence.
- The child objects return. This is not a simple test, and involves understanding the child’s reasons.
If the child has been in the new country for more than 12 months, the same presumption of return does not always apply as strongly.
These are complex legal concepts so you should get specialist legal advice from an expert in Child Abduction cases from the start.
Child abduction proceedings are very different to normal child arrangements disputes over “residence” or “contact.” Different considerations and tests apply, so it is important to get advice from a specialist.
Hague Convention, Wardship and Inherent Jurisdiction
Child abduction proceedings are dealt with by special laws and procedure. These are designed to take place quickly, and have a very narrow focus.
The Hague Convention is an international instrument which covers nearly 100 countries around the world. It’s designed to ensure international cooperation to secure the swift return of abducted children to their home country.
The proceedings are generally known as proceedings for “Summary Return.”
If you are served with Summary Return papers, it means the child’s other parent is asking the Court to make urgent Orders that the child is returned to the country they have been taken from.
In some cases, the proceedings will take place under the High Court’s power to make orders, known as Inherent Jurisdiction, and the child may be made a Ward of Court whilst the proceedings resolve. Wardship orders are where a child is made a Ward of Court. It means no significant steps can be taken in relation to that child without the express consent of the court and it overrides parental consent.
We can help you be clear about what this means so you can make informed decisions about how best protect you and your children.
Child Abduction Specialists
At Simpson Millar, we have accredited specialists in Child Abduction, and our Family Law team have significant experience in helping parents involved in child abduction proceedings.
We can offer you various options for your appointments with the team, including telephone or video call - whatever works best for you.
We know that abduction proceedings can seem frightening and confusing, and we can help explain each stage of the process to you, to find the right approach for you.
We work closely with specialist barristers, to make sure your case is prepared and presented in the strongest possible way.
For initial legal advice call our Family Law and Divorce Solicitors
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