For any parent, the thought of their former partner taking their child abroad to live is beyond contemplation. It is normally difficult enough to imagine a divorce and not seeing your child each day, let alone a child being taken to live in a foreign country.
This week I felt particularly sorry for all parents involved in child abduction court proceedings because of a report indicating the potential additional difficulties of recovering abducted children from the European Union after Brexit.
As a specialist child abduction solicitor, I spend a lot of time with parents who are battling to achieve the return of their children to the UK from countries within the European Union. I have therefore witnessed the impact of child abduction on parents and their wider families. As part of the EU, Britain is a signatory to an EU convention to make the return of abducted children easier than is the case with non EU countries. On Brexit, British parents won’t be able to rely on those EU conventions unless it is negotiated that child abduction is an area where remaining a signatory to the current conventions, whilst not part of the EU, is the agreed solution.
I felt for all parents when I read some of the many news reports highlighting the fact that a government official has said that parents in the UK will find it more difficult to recover abducted children from the European Union if Britain is not able to get the EU to continue legal cooperation after Brexit.
Officials have reportedly said that the process of getting family courts in the European Union to help return children could become more complicated in a situation where a child of a British parent has been taken out of the country by a spouse to a country within the European Union. This is sadly an increasingly common situation. It is reported that there are approximately 1 million British citizens living in EU member states and 3 million EU citizens living in the UK. Therefore many EU citizens are married and settled in the UK but one EU parent will often, on separation, want to take a child who is domiciled in the UK back to the parent’s EU country of origin. That is a problem if the move occurs without the agreement of the other parent or British Court order. Alternatively, British citizens who are married to EU citizens and face the same problem of child removal to an EU country on separation or divorce.
The government paper does not indicate how Britain intends to achieve retaining the current rules over child abduction between the EU states after Brexit. The media report a concern that after Brexit the UK based parent may be forced to rely upon international treaties such as the Hague Convention rather than the current EU conventions when trying to recover a child taken abroad to the EU. This is because if there was a similar arrangement to the current EU regulations then it might involve foreign judges being able to exert jurisdiction over British citizens despite the British government’s past insistence that Brexit would exclude Britain from the rulings of foreign judges.
While it will still be possible to enforce the return of children to the UK any reduction in the current level of cooperation under EU conventions would disadvantage parents based in the UK. Child abduction and family law is just one of the many areas of law that most referendum voters probably did not contemplate would be affected by Brexit. For parents in the midst of Court proceedings, any news reports on post-Brexit legal complexities can only heighten anxieties but whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations there will be legal solutions for determined and dedicated parents caught up in the child abduction Court process.
For advice on any aspect of child abduction or children arrangements please contact me.