International parental child abduction

10/06/2013

In December 2012, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office made an announcement indicating that the number of parental child abduction cases it deals with had risen by 88% in under a decade. Seen against a background of increased ease of travel, coupled with technology, this increase is perhaps not so surprising. Indeed such factors have no doubt contributed to an increase in the number of relationships forming between those from different countries. As a result, children with parents originating from different parts of the globe is perhaps more commonplace than it was in decades gone by.

Nonetheless, the statistical increase from the FCO remains a notable one.

Decisions relating to the care arrangements for children post separation are often difficult. However, these can be made more so where the parents involved originate from different countries, where one parent wishes to return to their country of origin after a separation. Such situations can, in some cases, lead to the risk or concern of international parental child abduction.

Often, parents will be surprised to learn of the need for consent from the ‘other’ parent (providing that parent has parental rights) to travel abroad with their children. Nonetheless, this is what the law in Scotland says. It should be noted that the requirement for consent applies equally to holidays abroad as it does to one parent’s desire to relocate to another country.

Unfortunately, despite consent being a requirement, many parents still find themselves in a situation where abduction by the other parent is a risk or indeed, a reality. Where there has not yet been a removal or retention of a child abroad, there are protective steps which can be taken to try and prevent a parental child abduction taking place. As such steps will only be of assistance where a child has not yet been removed from the country, it is essential that the parent holding such concerns seeks specialist family law advice at the earliest opportunity.

In circumstances where a child has already been removed from the UK, it is likewise imperative that the ‘left behind’ parent takes urgent specialist family law advice. The steps taken thereafter (and indeed the chance of successfully bringing about a return of the removed or retained child) will depend on the country to which the child has been taken. If a child has been taken to a country which has signed up to one of the international child abduction conventions, then it is likely that there are immediate steps which can be taken by the ‘left behind’ parent. For example, the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction provides a framework for bringing about the prompt return of a child wrongfully removed or retained in a country which is a signatory to the Convention.

If the country where a child has been taken is not a signatory to one of the international child abduction conventions, the position can often be very difficult indeed. Quite often in those circumstances, the only option for the parent remaining in Scotland is to consider court proceedings in the destination country, which can be a very intimidating prospect.

Whatever the position or stage of matters, parents who find themselves faced with such issues should seek legal advice as a matter of urgency. Likewise, parents who wish to relocate but are unable to obtain consent from the ‘other’ parent would also be well advised to take early advice from a family law specialist so that all of the available options can be considered.