If you have abducted your child, whether unintentionally or not, we are here to advise and support you.

We understand that parents move their children from one country to another for a wide range of reasons. If you have moved your child from one country to another without the consent of their other parent, or the court in the country you moved from, it is possible that you may have abducted your child.

Many parents who abduct their child actually have no idea that they have done anything wrong until they are served with court papers or the police arrive at their door.

If after reading this, you believe that you may have abducted or retained your child – don’t panic. Call the advice line and we will ask you some simple questions and should be able to advise on what your position is. We will explain to you what options you have so that you can decide what course of action you wish to take.

There are a few important factors in your situation 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.

This difference is important because in England, Wales and Northern Ireland the wrongful removal of a child is a criminal offence, but 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, but such orders are not needed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The position in other countries varies. For example in some countries both the wrongful removal and wrongful retention of a child is a criminal offence, while in others there will need to be existing court orders in place.

It is important to know that if you are being accused of wrongfully retaining your child, there will still be options for the other parent 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.

Hague or Non-Hague?

If the country you have taken your child from and the country they are now in 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 the left-behind parent may 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 the 1980 Hague Convention is not an option in your situation, your child’s other parent may still be able to approach the courts to ask for the return of your child.

If you are being accused of wrongfully removing or retaining your child in the UK, you may be entitled to legal aid to help fund legal representation for a court case. This will depend on an assessment of your financial means and the merits of your case.

You are not alone

Parental child abductions happen more often than you probably think and can involve any country in the world. In 2019 our team recorded abductions into the UK from over 40 different countries. The most frequent countries children were brought into the the UK from were USA, Poland, Australia, Spain and Ireland.

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.
  • If you are served with any court papers seek advice from a specialist lawyer as quickly as possible.
  • When seeking legal advice or instructing a lawyer make sure they have experience in international parental child abduction cases.
  • Consider mediation as an alternative to the court process.