Marriage and divorce are both becoming increasingly international in nature meaning that children often have family origins in different countries. Combined with the fact that air travel has made travelling overseas far simpler, it is therefore unsurprising that the number of children being abducted to overseas jurisdictions has increased in recent years. The idea of your child being taken to another country without your permission is a horrible one but there are laws which can help.
In England and Wales, the law dictates that anyone who takes a child overseas without obtaining prior permission from those with legal custody of the child has committed a criminal offence. The Child Abduction Act 1984 only makes exceptions to this rule if a court order has been granted to take the child out of the country. Once the child is removed from their normal home country it is recognised internationally as abduction.
When a child is abducted it causes enormous distress to the child as well as the parent who is left behind of course. Although the child may not initially appear to have been affected, it is likely that they will suffer emotional damage which may only manifest itself later on. For the child, losing contact with their other parent, language, culture and friends can also be very traumatic and can lead to anger issues, nervousness and depression.
The Hague Convention
As the problem of international child abduction grew throughout the 1900s, it became clear that some kind of international convention would be needed in order to tackle the problem. In 1980 the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was established and dictates that abducted children will be returned to their habitual country of residence if they have been taken without permission.
Every signatory state has an authority dedicated to handling correspondence related to international abduction cases and in the UK this is called the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU). Parents who believe that their child has been abducted overseas can apply to the ICACU to get them back under the Hague Convention. So long as the application fulfils the necessary criteria, the ICACU will connect the applicant with a specialist child abduction solicitor. This solicitor will then be able to sort out the following:
• Applying for legal aid [despite the recent cuts to the legal aid budget, legal aid could be available to fund your lawyer’s costs if there has been a history of, or risk of, child abduction outside the UK ]
• Completing various pieces of paperwork and managing correspondence
• Compiling a convincing body of evidence
• Providing representation at court hearings
• Giving instructions to counsel
International child abduction cases are particularly complex due the fact that different jurisdictions are involved. It should also be noted that there are certain situations in which the abductors lawyers may successfully argue that the child should not be returned. For example, lawyers often use article 13 of the convention which dictates that the child need not be returned if doing so would endanger their physical or mental wellbeing to delay cases. This kind of tactic, combined with the fact that many nations have gender or cultural biases often negates the effectiveness of the Hague Convention.
Tim Bishop is senior partner of Bonallack and Bishop – family law solicitors with experience of handling international child abduction cases. Click here for more information if your child has been abducted, visit their specialist website at http://www.the-divorce-solicitors.co.uk or call them on 01722 422300.