Child abduction: why it pays to get legal advice before you take children to or out of the UK

For one mother there was a happy ending, all thanks to the Court of Appeal. The appeal judges decided to reverse an earlier Court’s decision that said two children should be returned to the USA whether or not their mother could get a visa to re-enter the States.

The family Court appeal made all the difference.

The family Court appeal centred on whether two children, age 5 and 3, should return to their country of birth, the USA, at their father’s request under a Hague Convention Court application. The mother had taken the children to England, the country of her birth, without a USA Court order or the father’s agreement, after marriage difficulties made her conclude that she and the children should live in the UK. If the mother had realised the complexity of the immigration issues facing the father and herself she may well have thought twice and not taken the children out of the USA.

For the children immigration wasn’t a problem as they had dual citizenship, having been born in the States and having British citizenship through their mother. The children’s Pakistani father was classified as an illegal over-stayer in the USA and if he decided to come to the UK to challenge Court rulings or to see the children he faced not being able to get back into the States, a country that he had called home from the age of 12. For the mother, as a British citizen who had entered the USA on a temporary visa and married the father in the States, it was unlikely she would be able to get a visa to go back to the States.

The situation of both parents was stark. If the father ‘won’ his Hague Convention application and the Court ordered the return of the children to the States to enable the USA Court to decide on what was in the children’s long term interests, then the mother was unlikely to get a visa to go back with them. The High Court ruled in the father’s favour and the mother felt she had no alternative other than to appeal.

The Court of Appeal then faced the dilemma of deciding if the children would be exposed to a grave risk of harm if returned to the USA under the Hague Convention. The mother ran this argument as there are limited defences available to try and stop a Hague Convention ordered return. The Appeal Court concluded that the children could not be removed from their primary carer despite the fact that the mother had created the situation that the family found itself in and even though the Appeal Court decision made contact between father and children problematic given his precarious immigration status in the USA.

The family circumstances may appear unusual but as a child abduction solicitor I often have to investigate the immigration issues that arise after a child has been taken out of or has entered the UK and present the best possible evidence on immigration status and attachment. It is vital to do so as immigration status can be the key to the Court decision, as it was in this case as the children’s attachment to their mother as their primary carer, meant they would be at risk of harm in returning to the States without her. Would you risk it? The High Court decision, reversed by the Court of Appeal, shows just what a risk was taken. Sadly though there are no winners or losers in this family situation as the father now faces the same immigration dilemmas and difficulties in seeing his children.

For advice on child abduction or children law please call me on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at louise@evolvefamilylaw.co.uk