If a child has been abducted from a person with Parental Responsibility but remains in this country, you need apply for a court order to ensure that the child is located and returned home.
In cases where a child has already been taken out of the country, the remedy depends on the country where the child is currently staying.
If the country is a member of the Hague Convention, there is a clear procedure about how to apply for the child to be returned home.
You will need to apply to the High Court for a declaration that the child was wrongfully removed from the jurisdiction. This will assist in obtaining an order in the other country for the child to be returned. A solicitor will then liaise with the Child Abduction and Contact Unit to ensure that an application is made for the return of the child.
The following steps should be taken immediately on learning of a child abduction or on suspecting child abduction:
- Notify the child’s school and any other third party carer of your concerns and request that extra vigilance is exercised.
- Control the whereabouts of the child’s passport. You can lodge this with your solicitor, or secure a court order that the passport is surrendered.
- Ask the police to issue a “port alert” where a note can be put on to the police national computer to warn port authorities at airports, seaports and the like.
- Apply to the court for a range of orders including residence/prohibited steps orders for disclosure of information concerning a child or the delivery up of a child.
- Ensure that you have an up to date photograph of your child in case this needs to be provided to the police in an emergency.
In England and Wales, child abduction is a serious offence. It is a criminal offence for a person who is connected with a child to take or send the child out of the UK, unless all of those with Parental Responsibility consent to the removal.
If an individual is found guilty of child abduction, they can be sent to prison for up to 7 years.
The parent in whose favour a Residence Order has been made is allowed to take the child out of the country for up to 28 days without the consent of the other parent, but they ought to notify the other parent of their plans.
Issues sometimes arise after parents’ divorce or separate, due to difficulties liaising over holiday arrangements, and this impacting upon arrangements to see the child. Requests to take a child abroad on holiday will usually be dealt with in favour of the parent wishing to take the child away, on the basis that this would be beneficial for the child’s welfare.
However, if there is an ulterior motive for the trip abroad, and the parent considers that there is a real risk that the child would not be returned to this country after the “holiday”, then that parent ought to consider making an urgent application to the court for a Prohibited Steps order.
Sometimes, it is not just a holiday which is envisaged. A parent might wish to take the child to live abroad for a temporary period, or more permanently. A child cannot be taken abroad to live without the other parent’s consent (and it is advisable that this consent is in writing). If the other parent does not agree, an application to the court needs to be made.
Alternatively, it may be the case that the resident parent wishes to relocate within the country of residence. This may not be agreed by the other parent and an application to the court would need to be made for a Specific Issue order.
The court will determine the issue after scrutinising the proposals in great detail. The proposals would need to contain a great deal of detail about the following:
- Were the proposals to move in the child’s best interest?
- What are the reasons for the move? Is there a genuine reason for the move, or is it a move designed to thwart contact arrangements between the child and the other parent?
- Proposals for the child’s education, including details of the type of school, its facilities, whether they have space available, whether proper enquiries have been made at the selected school will be considered.
- Whether the education is to be funded privately, and how this will be done and who will be responsible for payment of the fees.
- Proposals about the accommodation selected, with photographs and details about the surrounding area.
- If relocating abroad, a description about the foreign country, and an analysis of any cultural differences in existence, and the impact this might have on the child.
- Practical information about flight schedules and flight cost and proposals for who pays for flights.
- Practical information as to where the parent stays when he or she comes to visit the child. For example, where are the hotels and rental properties? How much do they cost? Who will pay for them?
- How will the child keep in touch with the parent on a regular basis? For example, by Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, telephone or Email?
- How will the proposals affect the child and the absent parent? The more contact a child has, the greater the impact upon the child.
- If the court refused the application, how would this impact upon the parent who wished to move? If that parent were to be extremely distressed at the prospect of a refusal, which would lead to her being isolated and having no support network, for example, this might have a detrimental impact upon the child. The court would need to consider whether the child would be better off moving and being cared for by a parent who is happier, and has more of a support network when they move.
A parent who wishes to relocate with their child must formulate detailed and comprehensive proposals, if the application is to stand any chance of being considered favourably by the court.
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