What you need to know
Child abduction happens when a child is moved across an international border by one parent without everyone else who has parental responsibility for the child agreeing or without a court order allowing it.
Parental responsibility is automatically given to birth mothers. If you and your ex were married or in a civil partnership when your children were born, then both of you will have parental responsibility. For births registered after 1 December 2003, provided their name is on the birth certificate, unmarried fathers will also have parental responsibility. Depending on your family’s situation, other people such as grandparents might also have parental responsibility.
Sometimes child abduction can be accidental. If you and your ex both have parental responsibility for your children and there are no court orders in place, then neither of you can take the children out of the UK on holiday without the consent and written permission of the other (or anybody else who has parental responsibility for the children). Many parents do not know this.
There are two types of child abduction:
- Wrongful removal – when a child is taken from the country they have been living in and moved to another country.
- Wrongful retention – when a child is kept in another country by one parent. Typically, this happens when both parents have agreed the child can go on holiday, but the child is not returned at the end of the trip.
Wrongful removal is also a criminal offence in England and Wales, which means the police can get involved. However, wrongful retention is not a criminal offence. The police are unlikely to get involved if your child has been wrongfully retained in another country.
However the abduction has happened, the Family Court in England and Wales can usually get involved if your child normally lives in England or Wales and has been taken to another country, or your child has been brought to England or Wales and normally lives in another country.