International Child Abduction

Under the Child Abduction Act 1984, it is an offence for a person connected with a child to send or remove a child under 16 from the UK, without the appropriate consent of those persons who would have parental responsibility for a child, and if not, the permission of the court. The consent that is required is to be of all those persons who have parental responsibility for the child, as set out in Child Abduction Act 1984. Therefore, if parents are divorced, and in the absence of a child arrangements order (specifying living with), even if the children lived with their mother she would be potentially committing this offence if she decided to take the children out of the UK without the consent of her former husband and any other people who had parental responsibility for the children. The person will not be committing an offence if they have the benefit of a child arrangements order (specifying living with), provided the period of removal is for less than a month, or the person has the benefit of a special guardianship order, and the removal is for less than three months (Child Abduction Act 1984).

There are several procedures for recovering abducted children. The appropriate procedure in any case will depend on the country to which the child has been taken. Under the Family Law Act 1986, orders obtained in one part of the UK are recognised and enforced in any other part. A child arrangements order (specifying living with), obtained in England, for example, may be enforced in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

The Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985 allows applications to be made for the recovery of a child under 16 who has been wrongfully removed or retained in another country, provided that both countries are signatories to the Hague Convention (the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction). The procedure for recovery is that the Central Authority in one country will contact the appropriate Central Authority in the other country concerned. If a child has been abducted to a country outside the UK, and that country is not a party to the Hague Convention, the ‘left behind parent’ may need to commence proceedings in that country directly.

Legal Aid may potentially be available depending on various factors including the type of application being made and whether a party is the applicant or the respondent.

Stephen Aldred is a member of the Child Abduction Lawyers Association and is accredited as a specialist family solicitor by membership of The Law Society’s Family Law Advanced Panel – including the specialisms of international child abduction and wardship.

If you are seeking legal advice and/or need representation to act for you in respect of any of the above matters then please call 01344 622141 or email