Worried about child abduction?
Whether you’re a parent planning on relocating and taking your children from your home country to the UK or you’re a parent concerned that your ex-partner has left or may leave the UK taking your children with them, you need to understand your legal rights and options. Our specialist child abduction and children law solicitors, led by partner Louise Halford, have the legal expertise to support and help you, offering approachable sensitive child abduction law advice tailored to your individual circumstances.
There for you
If you fear your ex-partner is planning on leaving the UK with your children then you need urgent expert legal advice. Likewise, if you have arrived in the UK from overseas and are being accused of child abduction, you need clear, incisive legal advice from experts in child abduction law. At Evolve Family Law, our children law solicitors are there for you. We can quickly advise on your legal options including proceedings for a child arrangement Order , specific issue Order or prohibited steps Order or Relocation Order.
Why choose the child abduction law solicitors at Evolve Family Law
Child abduction law specialist solicitor Louise Halford has many years of experience in helping parents sort out child custody and contact, including helping parents who want to move abroad, those objecting to a move or parents who are worried about their rights or are concerned at the thought of child abduction. Louise has an excellent children law reputation for being approachable and going the extra mile for her clients. Louise works with a number of child specialists and, on an international client basis, she regularly works with foreign lawyers to achieve the best outcomes for the families she helps.
Child Abduction Law – Your Questions Answered
What is parental child abduction?
International parental child abduction is when a parent of a child wrongfully removes the child from the country where they had been living previously and another individual possesses rights of custody in relation to the child.
Rights of custody depending on the law in the child’s country and how the Courts interpret the child abduction law. This can have different definitions in different countries.
A parent taking their child overseas on holiday or returning to their country of origin, without the consent of the other parent and any other holders of parental responsibility, may be guilty of the offence of child abduction in the eyes of the Court. Whether your ex-partner has taken your child without your agreement, has kept your child longer than you consented to, or you aren’t sure whether you need permission to take your child away on holiday, it is vital you speak to a child abduction law solicitor to make sure that your child is protected and your family doesn’t fall foul of the complicated child abduction laws relating to the unauthorised removal or retention of children.
My child has been taken abroad. What can I do?
Prompt action must be taken to maximise the chances of a swift return to the UK or to the child’s home country. You will need specialist and determined child abduction law experts.
A number of countries have signed up for a treaty called the 1980 Hague Convention. The Convention aims to return children to the country they were taken from as quickly as possible. There are limited circumstances where the Court may refuse to return the child to their original country. If the child is returned, the Court in the returning country will then decide the parenting arrangements for the child if the parents can’t agree.
I believe my child is at risk of child abduction or being moved abroad without my agreement. What can I do?
There are legal steps that can be initiated quickly if you believe there is a risk that your child may be removed from the country by the other parent or relative. There are safeguards the Court can put in place to prevent child abduction from happening. These can include emergency Court applications for a Specific Issue Order or a Prohibited Steps Order to prohibit a child from being taken out of England. The Court can also order a Port Alert and order that the Court or a solicitor should retain the child’s passport. If you fear that child abduction may be about to take place speed is of the essence to try and prevent the child’s removal.
Child abduction law and foreign holidays
Most parents assume that they can take their child on holiday wherever they want. That is not necessarily the case. If a parent has a Child Arrangements Order saying the child lives with them (and there are no other Court Orders preventing their taking their child on foreign holidays) then they can take a child abroad on holiday for a month, without needing the other parent’s agreement. There should still be communication and consultation between parents.
A lot of parents don’t have Child Arrangement Orders in place and, without an Order, if either parent wants to take the child on holiday to a foreign country, they need the other parent’s agreement or a Court Order authorising the holiday. Most couples co-operate about holidays and see the benefits of a child spending time abroad but, if not, a Court Order can be applied for. Understanding a bit about child relocation law is helpful when you want to take your child on holiday.
Court Orders can take time to organise so it is always sensible to plan overseas holidays in advance and to talk to your ex-partner about your plans and provide flight details so they don’t worry and give their agreement. That should also encourage them to give you the same information when they plan their holiday with the child and book flights.
Objecting to an overseas holiday
Some parents worry about their child being kept abroad, after a holiday. That can be especially relevant when there are family connections to a foreign country. This can be grounds to object to a holiday or for a Court to put special safeguards in place to ensure that the child returns at the end of their holiday, either by agreement or the Court making a Prohibited Steps Order.
Travelling overseas with a child after separation or divorce
Nowadays many families have different surnames and so travel paperwork can be in a variety of different names. This can flag up to officials that parental consent to take a child abroad may be needed. If you are travelling to another country with a child and you’re not the child’s parent or you have a different surname to the child then you may need to bring extra documents with you to establish your relationship. Carrying evidence of your relationship with the child and documents explaining the reason for travelling isn’t compulsory but can help avoid delays and questions. According to the Home Office, evidence can include a copy of the birth or adoption certificate showing your relationship with the child or a letter from the child’s parents with contact details and giving consent for the child to travel with you. It may be sensible to speak to the airline that you’re flying with the seek advice about their specific rules. If you are interested in finding out more about this issue, read our latest blog.
Child abduction law and moving to live abroad with a child or objecting to a move
A separating parent with connections to more than one country faces the dilemma of whether they should take their child ‘home’ or should they and child their stay in England? Often the immediate reaction when a couple separate is for one parent to want to return home to their country of origin with their child. The other parent then has to decide whether to agree to the move or object.
If a parent decides to go ‘home’ without the agreement of the other parent or permission from a Court the parent may commit the criminal offence of child abduction. Advice from a child abduction solicitor is essential before a move is made. Why? Take the case of an American mum and dad and their child, all three are USA citizens but the family has lived and worked in England for the last ten years. Despite all the family being American if one parent takes the child back to the USA that parent runs the risk of child abduction law charges unless they get the other parent’s agreement to them taking the child to America or an English Court Order. That is because legally the family is classed as ‘habitually resident’ in England.
Applying to move overseas with your child
There are a whole host of reasons for wanting to relocate abroad with a child, such as a parent wanting to move abroad with their new partner, the commitment of a new job or to move for lifestyle reasons. There is equally an array of countries to choose from within Europe, the States, the Middle East, Australia or New Zealand. Whatever country and continent a parent would like their child to move to, they will need the agreement of all holders of parental responsibility for the child or the permission of the Court. If the parent doesn’t get an agreement, they will fall foul of the child abduction law.
Detailed plans for housing, schooling, and contact arrangements with the left-behind parent and extended family will need to be thought through. A parent who wants to leave with their child needs to start to put a very coherent plan in place to get the other parent’s agreement or a Court Order.
If you or your ex-partner is thinking about leaving England with your child then the first step is to think carefully about your plans and strategy. Rushing in and saying you are leaving or objecting to a permanent move may be understandable but it can be counterproductive. Whether you are the parent wanting to take your child abroad or the parent who opposes the move, choosing the right strategy and child abduction law solicitor you are comfortable working with, has a big impact on the chances of success.
Who can object to a child’s move abroad?
If the other parent has parental responsibility for your child, you will need their consent or permission of the Court. A mother of a child always has parental responsibility. The child’s father will also have parental responsibility if the parents were married when the child was born or if the father is named on the birth certificate, provided the child was born after 1 December 2003.
Can a parent move abroad with a child while waiting for the Court decision?
A parent can’t take a child abroad without the consent of the other parent or permission of the Court even if the parent has applied to the Court for permission or is intending to do so. Taking a child abroad in advance of a Court hearing will undermine the chances of succeeding in a Court application for permission and could amount to a breach of child abduction law.
How long do Court applications to move overseas with a child take?
The Court process can take quite a long time. That is down to the speed that the Court operates at. There are normally at least two Court hearings and sometimes the Court will ask for an independent report from a Child and Family Court Officer. Usually, a minimum of six months may be needed and sometimes longer. The Court process can sometimes be completed more quickly if there is a deadline (such as a start date for a new job or the start of the new school year) and the Court is able to give an early hearing date. As Court timetables can’t be guaranteed it is always as well to plan in advance.
How much notice of an overseas move does a parent need to give?
There is no minimum notice period required. However, if a lot of notice of a planned move is given it gives time for the other parent and extended family to think about the plans to move and gives time to discuss how they can continue to see the child.
What do I need to show to get the Court permission to move overseas with a child?
You will need to lodge an application to briefly explain what you would like the Court to order. The Court is also likely to ask you and the other parent to prepare statements setting out, in more detail, what the plans are. The intended move, therefore, needs to be thoroughly and carefully prepared and therefore it is a lot better to have considered plans before you actually apply to the Court. You will need to be able to show that the intended move abroad is well thought out and is in the child’s best interest and say how you anticipate the parent being left behind will be able to enjoy contact and spend time with the child.
How do parents sort out school holidays when one parent moves overseas?
If you do get the other parent’s agreement to move abroad with the child or a Court Order then often the agreement or Order is based on the other parent being able to spend time with the child, including Skype and Face time, but also spending time in England so the child can see extended family, such as grandparents or cousins or old school friends, some of whom may not be physically able to travel or be in a position to afford an overseas trip.
The likelihood is that the child will spend more of their holidays with the other parent than would have been the case if all the family stayed in England, but the left-behind parent won’t be able to see the child during school term unless the move is a relatively short flight away and long weekends can be enjoyed. This is the sort of thing that would need to be considered and addressed as part of the process of obtaining the permission of the Court to relocate. The Court is likely to want to ensure that the child gets to spend holiday time with the other parent.
What happens if Court permission for an overseas move is refused?
Many parents assume that the Court is deciding whether or not they can move abroad. Although the Court process may feel like that, the Court has only got the power to make decisions about the child. If the Court refuses permission the parent can leave and decisions then have to be taken about how often the child can see the parent who is moving abroad, the reverse to what would have happened if the Court had given permission for the child to move overseas.
In most families, if one parent is not given permission to move abroad with the child, they shelve their plans and stay in England. A parent who feels that their life plans have been thwarted can then feel very upset with the other parent or extended family who objected to the move. That is why it is important that if you do object to a move the lines of communication stay open and the objection is framed in a very child-focused way.
If a parent is refused permission to leave England with their child, they can make another Court application at a later date. To avoid having to make another Court application it is vital that any application to relocate abroad is very carefully prepared and presented.
Obtaining contact if the Court gives permission for the child to move overseas
The Court will normally make a Child Arrangements Order covering the permission to allow one parent to move abroad and the parenting or contact arrangements. These types of Orders can be quite detailed and can include, for example, the frequency of Skype contact, whether the child can fly unaccompanied, etc. The Court can also direct that a ‘Mirror Order’ is obtained in the country that the child is moving to. This is to ensure that if contact does not take place the Mirror Order can be enforced. Any agreed arrangements for contact or Court Orders can be changed by agreement or further Court Orders as family circumstances can change or a child’s needs and wishes may alter over time.