‘When a child is abducted, the pain is immeasurable. It is devastation beyond belief. I, like any parent who is faced with such crisis, reached out in desperation to whatever help that was available. My search brought me to reunite, and I can never be more thankful that it did.’
Read more of Paul’s story in the Parents’ and Children’s Stories page.
My child has been taken out of the country and not brought back. What can I do?
If your child has been taken or kept out of the country they usually live in then call our advice line as soon as possible. Our advice line team can work with you to understand what has happened, talk you through your options and stay in touch with you as your case unfolds.
There are a few important factors in your case that will determine what options are available to you:
Wrongful Removal or Wrongful Retention?
There are two types of international parental child abduction: wrongful removal and wrongful retention.
A wrongful removal is when a child is taken out of their home country without the consent of both parents or a court order. A wrongful retention is when both parents agree their child can leave the country for a short period of time, such as a holiday, but the child does not come back at the end of the trip.
The reason this difference is important is because in England, Wales and Northern Ireland the wrongful removal of a child is a criminal offence, whereas wrongful retention is not. This means that the UK police will be able to provide assistance when a child has been wrongfully removed, but are unlikely to be able to do so if they have been wrongfully retained.
(In Scotland there needs to be certain existing orders in place for a wrongful removal to be a criminal offence, whereas such orders are not needed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The position in other countries will vary).
It is very important to know, however, that if your child is wrongfully retained there will still be options for you to seek their return. In the vast majority of cases a wrongful removal and a wrongful retention are treated the same by the family courts, as they are by the 1980 Hague Convention, so you can still use the court process to ask for your child’s return.
Hague or Non-Hague?
If the country your child has been taken from, and the country they have been taken to, are both signed up to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction, and have agreed to operate the Convention between them, then you can use the 1980 Hague Convention process to ask for the return of your child. The court of the country your child is currently in will make the decision, based on the rules set out in the 1980 Hague Convention.
The UK joined the 1980 Hague Convention in 1984, and is currently operating the convention with 81 other countries. To find out if the 1980 Hague Convention can be used in your case, please refer to the table of signatories created by the Hague Permanent Bureau here.
If your child has been abducted from the UK to a non-Hague Convention country you can get court orders from the UK courts and use them to ask the court of the country your child is currently in to ask for their return.
In the UK legal aid is available for cases of abduction from the UK, depending on an assessment of your financial means and the merits of your case. For cases into the UK, left-behind parents living overseas and using the 1980 Hague Convention are automatically entitled to legal aid. Those defending and allegation of abduction may be entitled to legal aid subject to a means and merits assessment.
You are not alone
Parental child abduction happens more often than you probably think and can involve any country in the world. In 2019 our advice line recorded abductions from the UK to 85 different countries. The most frequent destination countries for children abducted from the UK were Poland, Spain, India, USA, Pakistan, Romania and Germany.
Things to Consider:
- Call our advice line as soon as possible for advice, information and support.
- If possible, try to keep communication open between yourself and the other parent as this may be helpful in the future.
- When seeking legal advice or instructing a lawyer make sure they have experience in international parental child abduction cases.
- Consider the option of mediation as an alternative to the court process.
- You may want to allow some time for the dust to settle, but don’t wait forever. The longer you wait to start court proceedings the more difficult it may be to convince a court that your child should be returned back to the country they were previously living in.
We have written a series of Child Abduction Country Guides to set out what your options are if your child has been abducted to a particular country. Have a look on the list below to see if the country you are dealing with is is included, and click the link to view and download the Guide.
Regardless of whether or not we have a Guide for the country your child has been taken to, please call our advice line for ongoing advice, information and support.