Family Law

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.