Has your child been taken or kept overseas by their other parent or a relative without your permission? Or are you worried that this might happen?

Child abduction is the unauthorised removal or retention of a minor from a parent or anyone with legal parental responsibility for the child.

Child abduction can be committed by parents or other family members and by people known but not related to the victim, such as neighbours, friends and acquaintances, as well as by strangers.

The Child Abduction Act 1984 rendered such a removal a criminal offence and makes it an offence for anyone “connected with” a child under the age of 16 to “take or send” that child out of the United Kingdom without the appropriate consent.

“Connected with” includes parents, guardians or a person with a Child Arrangements Order or who otherwise had custody and control over a child. “Appropriate consent” is the consent of the mother, the father (if he has parental responsibility), the guardian or anyone with a Child Arrangements Order, parental responsibility or the leave (permission) of the court.

It is crucial to obtain advice from a family solicitor if you are worried that your child might be abducted overseas.

It may be appropriate to secure the arrangements for your child by obtaining a Child Arrangements Order to secure the custody and control of the child in your care, or to seek other such Orders to prevent the removal of the child from your care or to specifically prevent the child from travelling overseas. It may be also appropriate to apply to have your child made a ward of the Court, through which the Court would become the legal guardian of the child and can exercise its powers to back up its decisions on what is in that child’s best interests.

You may wish to write to the Identity and Passport Service, enclosing a copy of any Court Order secured, to ask that they do not issue any British passport on behalf of the child without your consent or permission.

If the other parent of your child or children is not British, then they may be able to secure passports for child or children from their own Embassy, High Commission or Consulate in this country. In that case, you may wish to instruct Prism Family Law to write to the other person’s nationality asking them also not to issue a passport to your child or children. They do not have to follow your instructions, but they may elect to do so. If a child or children have dual nationality and a child has been taken to the country of their second nationality then the authorities there may view your child as a national of that country and this may limit what others can do to help.

You may wish to contact your local police station and if they are satisfied that the threat of abduction is real and imminent (that is, they accept that your child is likely to be taken overseas within 48 hours), they can contact the National Ports Office and ask them to alert all United Kingdom points of departure to try to prevent the abduction. This is called a “Port Alert.”

Ultimately, if despite those best efforts your child or children are removed and abducted without your consent, then you must immediately notify the police.

As above, child abduction is a criminal offence. If it is not too late, the police may still be able to stop your child or children from being taken out of the country. The police can contact Interpol on your behalf and Interpol may be able to work with overseas police forces to help trace, locate and ultimately return the child or children back to your care.

It is also critically important that you instruct a family lawyer to apply to the Family Court seeking orders to allow for the return of the child or children to your care. In this respect, Prism Family Law can immediately help.

You should also contact the Consular Directorate at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on 0207 008 1500. The FCO can tell you whether the child or children have been removed to a country that has joined the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction and provide additional help on what you can immediately do.

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a written agreement between various countries which aims to ensure the return of an abducted child to the country where he or she normally resides or lives, so that issues of where the child should then live can be decided by the courts of that country.

If your child or children have been removed to a Hague Convention country, then upon referral to them, the UK Central Authority will handle your case. They may be able to make application on your behalf under the Hague Convention to the foreign central authority. The FCO will not normally become involved in the case unless the UK Central Authorities ask for help.

If your child or children have been taken to a country that has not joined the Hague Convention, there may be no international systems in place to help you. In such a case, you can:

  • Try and come to an agreement with the other parent, which may prove problematic.
  • Start legal proceedings in the courts overseas.

If you cannot come to any agreement or arrangement with the other parent, you may need to apply to bring your child back to the UK through the courts overseas. The FCO cannot interfere in foreign court proceedings and cannot guarantee that your child or children will be returned to you even if legal proceedings are commenced in that jurisdiction.

Before you call anyone for help, be prepared to provide the following information that can help others to help you:

  • Your child or children’s names, age, date of birth, passport details and nationality.
  • Details of the abducting parent and his or her relatives, both in the UK and overseas.
  • Details of any court orders giving you a Child Arrangements Order.

How can Prism Family Law help?

It is essential that, should you suspect that your child or children are at risk of abduction or have been abducted, you do seek immediate advice on your circumstances. At Prism Family Law, we have the lawyers and expertise to help. Please do not hesitate to contact us via telephone on 0191 269 6871 or alternatively via email [email protected].  Your first initial appointment will always be free so that you can consider all the available options to you without obligation.