Parental child abduction cases are on the rise. In December 2012, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office launched a media campaign in which they revealed that parental child abduction cases had risen by 88% in under a decade. Between 2001 and 2011 there was a 206% increase in the number of children being taken to a country which has not ratified the Hague Convention on child abduction, making it much harder to arrange for the children’s return.
In two recent cases the main issue for the courts has been in determining where the children are habitually resident, and therefore whether they should be returned to the country from which they have been taken.
Child Abduction Case 1 – R v A
In R v A  EWHC 692 (Fam) the parents originated from Zimbabwe and moved to California following their marriage. Their two oldest children were born in California and their third child was born in England. The parents had travelled to England on what the father claimed to be a temporary visit for the sole purpose of the caesarean section delivery of the third child. Following the birth, albeit after some delay due to medical complications, the family returned to California. Thereafter, the mother removed the children from California and brought them to England without the consent of their father.
In determining that the children were not habitually resident in England, the court considered the mother’s witness evidence to be “unimpressive” and inconsistent. The children’s stay in England had not become an ordinary part of their lives and the mother did not own a home there. An order returning the children to California was made.
Child Abduction Case 2 – FT and NT
In FT and NT (Children), Re  EWHC 850 (Fam) both parents were British nationals who were born in the UK. Two years after the birth of their second child, the family relocated permanently to Canada. Whilst the father conceded that the move was intended to be permanent, he claimed that he made the decision to relocate conditionally on both parents finding jobs, being settled and being happy. The parties separated soon after their relocation.
The father maintained that there was always an agreement between the parties to return to the UK if either or both of them was unhappy in Canada. He contended that whilst the intention was to settle in Canada, this was never achieved.
The court dismissed the father’s assertions and found that there could be “no other conclusion” than that the children were habitually resident in Canada at the time of their removal by their father. The evidence in favour of this decision was “overwhelming” and included such facts as the family home in England having been sold six months before the move, the mother attaining employment in Canada and the enrollment of the children in a Canadian school and nursery respectively. The court accordingly made an order returning the children to Canada.
In 2011/12, children were abducted to 84 different countries. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is limited in how it can assist parents whose children have been subject to parental child abduction, particularly where they have been taken to countries which have not ratified the Hague Convention. If you are concerned that your child is at risk of parental child abduction, you should contact a child abduction solicitor as soon as possible.
You can also download a help pack from the Reunite website at www.reunite.org.
For help and advice relating to child abduction cases, or any other area of family and divorce law, contact Lisa Kemp