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Family Law Blog

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A parent’s worst nightmare - parental child abduction laws UK

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International parental child abduction.

As family law solicitors we come across some really sad and upsetting cases at times, none more challenging than cases of parental child abduction. Over the past two years I have noticed an increase in calls from fathers who literally say “my worst nightmare” has happened – my ex-partner has taken our children abroad. This is often the start of lengthy, costly and highly emotional parental child abduction proceedings.

Locating a missing parent and child

The first challenge is often to establish where the missing parent and children are. The Family Courts in England and Wales are very quick to react to such cases and readily make orders for disclosure. This can include orders against airlines, telephone companies, banks and other agencies to disclose information that may help establish the whereabouts of a missing parent.  

Which rules apply?

Once the missing parent is located, the next question is whether the country they are residing in is a member of the Hague convention, ie where there is an international agreement between countries to assist with the quick return of a child. Generally speaking if the Hague Convention applies that’s good news but there are anomalies. For example, certain states in America only recognise part of the Hague convention. Without becoming too complex, if a father does not have parental responsibility for his children at the time they were removed from the country, an Order for the return of children may be useless. 

There are many loop-holes and it can be very challenging. Even more problematic are the countries where the Hague convention is not recognised at all such as Pakistan, Egypt and Nigeria.

Cases of parental alienation

In many of the cases I have come across where a mother has taken her children abroad without the father’s knowledge or consent, the father has already been to Court on several occasions to obtain orders to see their children, followed by enforcement proceedings, when the mother has failed to comply and make the children available. 

As an experienced family law solicitor unfortunately I can often spot the signs that things are going wrong. In some cases, there are trends and you just know that an allegation of abuse will be made against the father.  These are often unfounded allegations, particularly in cases where the mother is determined that the father will not see his children. Sadly, in a number of cases the children are then taken abroad without consultation or agreement.

And before I attract criticism for pointing the finger largely at mothers in this blog I should point out that the figures show that there are a much higher number of women abducting their children than men.

Legal support and advice

Regrettably in cases of parental child abduction the legal fees can be very high. There is funding available if children are made Ward of the Court in this Country but this will not cover the costs of the overseas legal team.

Throughout the process fathers are faced with so many emotional dilemmas such as how can I raise the fees, am I making the right application and what if I get the children back and they have been completely indoctrinated against me? Getting the right legal advice and support at an early stage from a family lawyer with international child abduction experience is essential.

I would like to say there are happy endings in every case but this is not the reality. For parents facing these serious dilemmas Reunite is a charity which provides assistance and support, including information about international lawyers and help to start the process to returning children back to the UK. And of course, we offer an initial free telephone consultation if you are facing this situation.


Andrew Woolley
Woolley & Co Family Law Solicitors

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