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International child abduction – Frequently asked questions

The child abduction team at Miles & Partners Solicitors has extensive experience in cases of international child abduction when children are bought to England and Wales from another jurisdiction without the consent of the other parent.

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions which we hear from families when:

  • a child is at risk of, or has already been taken, to another country; or
  • a child is being retained in another country without your consent.

We also advise parents from overseas who have brought or retained a child in England and Wales without the consent of the other parent (see our page on facing abduction proceedings) and British parents who wish to relocate overseas (see international relocation with a child).

Is my permission required for my child to be taken overseas?

You may give or withhold consent if you are the child’s:

  • mother;
  • father with parental responsibility;
  • guardian or special guardian.

Or if you:

  • have a Child Arrangements (Lives with) Order in place for the child; or
  • are responsible for residence under a Child Arrangements Order.

A Local Authority may need to give consent if a child is in care, as may the Court if the child is detained or a ward of court.

In the United Kingdom, under the Child Abduction Act 1984, it is a criminal offence to take or send a child under the age of 16 out of the UK without the appropriate consent. This is known as wrongful removal and can be reported to the Police.

What should I do if my partner is refusing to return from overseas with my children?

If you usually live in the UK, and your child is being kept overseas without your permission, then call our abduction team as soon as possible. Once we understand the circumstances, we can explain your options and support you.

While wrongful removal is a criminal offence in the UK, wrongful retention is not.  This is when both parents have agreed that their child could leave the UK for a short period of time, usually on holiday, but the child is not returned home as expected.  Unfortunately, the police are rarely able to assist in these circumstances.

However, there will still be options for you to seek their return via the courts. The options will depend on the country to which your child has been taken and whether:

  • the country is one of more than 80 nations which have joined the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction, in which case ‘Hague Convention’ rules will apply; or
  • the country is outside the Hague Convention, in which case you can seek a court order in the UK to ask the court of the country your child is currently in for their return or seek orders under the inherent jurisdiction of the court to place pressure on the abducting parent to return the child.
How long should I wait if my children have not been returned at the expected time?

Unless you are aware of a valid reason, such as a delayed flight which is confirmed by the airline, you should seek advice as soon as possible.

As explained above, the police will not be able to help with a wrongful retention if you initially agreed that your child could go overseas.

What should I do if I suspect my child has been abducted and taken overseas?

You should contact the police as soon as possible.  It will help them if you can provide as much information as possible, including:

  • passport or identity information for the children;
  • recent photographs, and details of clothing worn and taken;
  • mobile phone numbers and social media accounts;
  • identity and contact information for the person you believe has taken them;
  • likely destinations and any family contacts there;
  • anything else which might be helpful.

Also contact our abduction team, who will discuss the legal issues and explain how we can support you.

What should I do if I suspect someone of planning to abduct a child?

If you believe or have evidence that someone is planning to take your child, or another child, overseas without permission then it is important to act as quickly as possible.

The Court has the power to prevent someone removing children from the UK. It can also prevent passports being issued and can issue a port / airport alert via the police to be on watch for a potential abduction.

Is funding available for legal costs in international abduction cases?

If your child has been bought to England and Wales without your consent from another jurisdiction which is a signatory to the Hague Convention you will be eligible for free legal aid regardless of your income and capital.

In other cases UK legal aid may be available, depending on an assessment of your financial means and the merits of your case.

Once we understand your circumstances, we will advise what funding might be available and discuss which payment options might work best for you.

For immediate advice, please get in touch by calling 020 74 26 0400 or via our online enquiry form.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

Amanda Dench, Miles & Partners Solicitors, London

Amanda Dench

Founding Partner
Joint Head of the Family Department

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