Case law update: Child Abduction

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 [2013] 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 [2013] 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

Could family law cases increase as parental child abduction levels almost double in a decade?

I was shocked to find new figures revealing the number of parental child abduction cases have risen by 88% in under a decade. Just in the last year the Foreign Office’s (FCO)Child Abduction section fielded an averageof four calls per day to its specialist advice line.

It’s evidently clear that parental child abduction has become a serious worldwide issue. Almost 270 new cases were reported in 2003-04, while this year there has been more than 500 new cases so far according to the FCO.

What are the legal issues surround parental child abduction?

It is illegal for a parent to take a child overseas without permission from others with parental responsibility. However separate research by the FCO has suggested 24 per cent of Britons are unaware it is a crime.

If a child has been taken out of the country for more than 28 days without consent from those who posses parental responsibility, or a consenting order from the courts is breaking the law. In this circumstance I would advise to contact the police immediately as well as speaking to a family law legal specialist who will be able to advice you on your rights.

The increase in parental child abduction cases is a major cause for concern and is likely to lead to an increase in family law cases taking the matter to court.

Do you even have international support?

International law

The 1980 Hague convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction requires an abducted child to be sent back quickly to where they usually live, which is usually viewed as the best country to decide on matters such as custody and access in the benefit of the child.

A judgement on whether or not to return a child should ideally be reached within six weeks of court proceedings starting. However from experience, the complication of the majority of cases often results in court matters occurring far longer, often years.

Constitutional law

The above is only legal procedure for countries signed up to the Hague Convention. There are around 200 legal jurisdictions in the world. Only 87 of them are signatories to the Hague Convention, with no penalties for those that do not follow the rules.

If your child has been taken to a country that has not signed The Hague Convention then you may need to apply for custody and permission to bring your child back to the UK through the courts of that country and I’m afraid this process often takes far, far longer.

What to do if your child has been abducted by another parent

There are four key things to ensure you do if your child has been abducted.

  1. Seek advice from a family law solicitor and request an order stopping the child from being removed from the country
  2. Contact the police if the abduction is expected to take place
  3. Keep the child’s passport in a safe place
  4. Call the FCO’s Child Abduction Section on 020 7008 0878.

The statistics show that people tend to underestimate just how much getting a child back costs, including legal fees overseas and in the UK which may continue to mount up even after  the child is returned to this country. There also seems to be a lack of awareness about who pays the costs of resolving a parental child abduction case involving a non-Hague country.

The FCO has launched a campaign to highlight the issue to help inform and educate the UK public and encourage parents thinking of abducting their child to think twice before they cause significant distress to themselves and their family.

Hattons Solicitors have a dedicated team of family solicitors specialising in family law including cohabitation agreements, divorce law and separation. 

There’s no place like home…but where is home for your children?

With the opening of borders across Europe and the recent growth of the internet and cheap travel, it is becoming increasingly common for children to have parents who are of different nationality to one another.  However, should the parents separate, what happens if one parent wants to return to their home country with the child?

This is a question I am frequently asked as a family lawyer and it is understandably a highly emotive issue between parents.  Should a parent leave the country with their child without the other parent’s consent they could face criminal charges for child abduction.  Therefore consent is essential and if it is not forthcoming from the other parent you will need to apply to the court for a judge to decide.

When the court considers whether such a move with the child should be allowed, the child’s welfare is paramount and the court will apply what is known as the welfare checklist.  The checklist includes factors such as the physical, emotional and educational needs of the child, the wishes and feelings of the child, the capability of the parent to meet the child’s needs and the likely effect on the child.  The proposed arrangements need to be considered carefully and the greater part the parent who would be left behind plays in the child’s life, the greater impact/damage upon the child if the move is allowed.

If you wish to make the move with your child, preparation and research is imperative.  Also focus on how your child’s relationship with their other parent can be maintained if the move is allowed.  The court needs to be sure that the proposed move is genuine, realistic and above all in the child’s best interests.

It is a very difficult issue with many factors to consider. Whether you are the parent wishing to make the move or the parent opposing the move, early legal advice is essential.

This was a guest post by Patricia Robinson Senior Associate at divorce solicitors Pannone LLP. For more information visit their website at http://www.pannone.com/