Preventing Child Abduction

Rather than wait until a child has been abducted abroad and then try to get a court order for the child’s return, the better option is to prevent an abduction from taking place at all.

As in so many other areas of family law, here the rule applies that contacting a solicitor early and getting good advice will save massive amounts of potential litigation, stress and huge costs later. Money you spend on expert advice early on can save you the same amount several times over in legal fees that you would have spent on litigation later.

First of all, you should make sure that you have parental responsibility. If you are a father who is not married to the mother, you may not have parental responsibility. The page on this topic will tell you whether you do. If in doubt, you should consult a solicitor. If you are a step-parent, including most partners of biological parents in same-sex couples, you probably do not have parental responsibility. In that case, you should make an urgent application to the court for parental responsibility because otherwise there will be nothing unlawful about the mother or other parent taking the child abroad and you can probably not stop her nor apply for a return under the Hague Convention on Child Abduction if the child is taken abroad. A solicitor can in an emergency make an application outside court office hours.

If you do have parental responsibility already, the action you need to take to prevent an abduction differs depending on whether:

The Child is Living with You

If the child lives with you, has regular contact with the other parent and you may if you have legitimate fears of an abduction, you should discuss with your solicitor what steps can be taken to prevent an abduction. This includes safeguarding the child’s passport and preventing a further passport from being issued. However, if the other parent has a different nationality, it may be possible for them to obtain a passport from the authorities of that country or to have the child included on their own passport, all of which an English court order cannot prevent. You should get advice from a lawyer in the other country in that case.

Especially if the child has no contact with the other parent, you should also alert third parties, possibly in confidence, so that you are immediately informed, for example if your child is collected from school by someone else.

The Child is Mainly Living with the Other Parent

You should discuss with an expert solicitor if you could obtain an order from the court for the child’s passport to be surrendered and kept by the court or a solicitor. You should also be vigilant about possible signs.

Remember that if there is a child arrangements order in force that provides that the child should live with someone (even if it provides that the child lives with more than one parent, formerly a residence order), the parent who the child lives with under the order can take the child on holiday for periods of under one month without your or the court’s permission. If you fear they may not return, you may need to discuss with your solicitor applying for an order restricting holidays.

There may be a Possible Abduction in the Future

If you fear that child abduction may occur at some stage in the future but not immediately, you should instruct a solicitor and discuss carefully what steps you can take in your specific case. This may include applying for prohibited steps orders, specific orders about passports (where they can be kept, whether another passport may be issued and so on), and practical steps you can take. The Reunite guide includes forms you can complete, which would help the police later on. This includes getting recent photos of the child and so on. It may also be a good idea to find a recent photo of the possible abductor on their Facebook or other social media and saving a copy before that might be taken down.

There is Fear of Imminent Abduction

If you think that the other parent may already be on their way to the airport with the child or even if you think that they may leave the country in the next few days, it may still not be too late. If you have time, you should consult an expert solicitor. However, even if you find out, for example, at 7pm when you try to collect the child from a contact visit that it is not there and you think they may not yet have left the country, you can contact the police who can provide an “All Ports Warning” (also called “Port Alert”). You will need to provide a full description of the child and the likely abductor and photographs if you have them. However, even without those, it may be possible for the other parent and the child to be stopped, especially if you have an idea where and how they may try to leave the country. For this you should go to your local police station. Remember that an “All Ports Warning” may not always work and there are some ways to leave the UK where there are lax or no exit controls. An “All Ports Warning” will only last for 28 days, so it should not be used as a routine measure if there is only a vague fear of an abduction in the future.

You can also contact the Reunite advice line on 0116 2556234, which has an out-of-hours emergency service.

The effective court orders you can apply for and the practical steps you can take will vary from case to case. In any case of a fear of child abduction you should get specialist advice from an expert solicitor.

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9 May 2016 by Andrea Woelke