Child abduction

Taking a child to another country requires the agreement of everyone with parental responsibility, otherwise it can be considered child abduction.

Parents with connections to more than one country often face additional issues if their relationship breaks down. Understandably, a parent may want to return to their home country, taking the children with them.

Moving to another country with your children, without agreement from their other parent, is child abduction. If you’re thinking about moving overseas with your child, it’s vital to speak to a family lawyer early on to ensure you do things in the right way.

If you believe there is a risk your child could be taken overseas without your agreement, your child has not been returned to the UK after a holiday or you’re facing allegations of child abduction, speak to a child abduction lawyer quickly This a traumatic situation for a parent to find themselves in. It is also a complex legal situation needing fast action. Taking the wrong steps can have far-reaching and permanent consequences.

Our lawyers

We understand the need to make child-centred decisions and we are committed to reducing conflict wherever we can. However, we also know that there’s a need to act quickly and assertively in cases where a child has been abducted.

Our team of child abduction lawyers advise parents whose children have been abducted and parents who are facing allegations of child abduction. We have experience of representing children separately too. We can help if:

  • You believe your ex might be planning to take your child abroad without your agreement
  • Your ex has already taken your child to another country without your agreement
  • Your child has not been brought home after an agreed trip or holiday overseas
  • You have been accused of abducting your child or are being threatened with child abduction proceedings

Some of our recent work includes:

  • Advising a father whose young daughter was kept overseas by her mother following an agreed holiday. Although court proceedings are under way, we are supporting the father as the parents try to resolve their dispute through mediation.
  • Advising a father, whose child had been abducted to a European country, in complex proceedings in the High Court and (in collaboration with overseas lawyers) securing the return of his child.
  • Representing a mother in high conflict proceedings in the High Court, where she was accused of abducting the couple's child to England. With our help, she was able to relocate to England with the child and negotiate a sensible co-parenting relationship with the father.
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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.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Videos from our adoption lawyers

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Children Law Awareness Week: International Children Law – watch the recording from our webinar below

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As part of Children Law Awareness Week in September 2021, experts Roberta Ceschini (Avvocato), Alev Giz and Eleri Jones (Barristers of 1GC Family Law) and Amy Starnes and Zoe Fleetwood (family lawyers from Mills & Reeve) presented a webinar on international children law issues including:

  • Child abduction: Hague 1980 or 1996?
  • Enforcement post Brexit
  • Relocation - tips and traps post pandemic
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