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This is the law of the country and Brexit has not changed anything.

Practically speaking, anyone attempting to leave the country with a child needs to be able to prove that they are legally entitled to do so, or that they have the correct consent, regardless of where they are travelling. Anyone who has travelled abroad alone with a child or has a different family name is likely to have experienced this first-hand.

However, this system is not infallible and does not protect against the possibility of a child being taken overseas legally then not returned.

IF YOU SUSPECT SOMEONE IS PLANNING TO ABDUCT A CHILD
If you believe your child is at risk of being abducted internationally you should inform the police and seek immediate advice from a family solicitor who can help you to obtain a Prohibited Steps order to prevent their removal from the UK. Such orders are enforceable by the police and carry legal consequences if breached. In some cases, the Court will order that the child’s passport is revoked or prevent one from being issued.

To protect yourself and your child, it may be advisable to put a formal Child Arrangements Order in place so that parental responsibilities, living and contact arrangements are clearly defined and can be enforced if necessary. If you are having difficulty agreeing arrangements for your child, a family solicitor will be able to assist you with negotiations and help you to make an effective application to the Family Court if necessary.

Additionally, if you are concerned that a child is going on too many trips abroad, you can request that the Court imposes restrictions to keep the child in the UK for longer periods of time. It is advisable to seek legal advice to ensure there are suitable grounds for concern, before making an application to Court.

Reunite, an international organisation providing advice on child abduction situations, has produced a guide with detailed information on how to prevent child abduction and the signs to look out for, which you can read here.

IF A CHILD HAS BEEN ABDUCTED
There are no words for how worrying this situation will be, but there are laws and international agreements in place to help you secure the safe return of your child.

In the EU
The UK and all members of the EU are signatories to the Hague Convention, which was specifically created to protect children from wrongful removal across international borders. This convention sets out a procedure which is followed in cases of parental abduction, acknowledging custody rights and rights of access granted in signatory countries, to enable the child’s prompt return to their country of residence.

If you live in England or Wales and your child has been taken to or kept in a country that has signed the Hague Convention against your wishes, you can make an application for their return by contacting the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit.

Outside of the EU
85 countries have signed the Hague Convention so it is possible that it will still apply. In which case you will be able to make an application for your child’s return as outlined above. A list of Hague Convention members can be found here.

If your child has been taken to a country that is not part of the Hague Convention, you should contact the police immediately as they will be able to liaise with Interpol to establish the child’s whereabouts. Communication with the guardian who has taken the child will be key, as well as starting legal proceedings in that country to request the child’s return.

A family solicitor will be able to help with the international proceedings so that you can find the quickest and most efficient way of securing your child’s return. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit will also be able to provide advice.

Will the pandemic make it harder for a child to be returned?
Over the last year there have been attempts by parents to remove children to locations that are thought to have less risk from COVID. In one of the first reported cases in May 2020, a mother who took her child from the father in London to Greece was ordered to return the child after the Court found that Coronavirus is not justification for removing a child without consent.

Although the Courts are not operating at full capacity, urgent cases are still being heard and child abduction cases will be prioritised to ensure that children can be returned promptly. Even where travel restrictions have been imposed due to Coronavirus, the Courts have ordered the immediate return of children who have been abducted.

LEGAL ADVICE
If you need to instruct a family solicitor to assist with child arrangements or international relocation, you can arrange a consultation with one of our specialist family team by calling 020 7993 2936.

If you require urgent advice in relation to parental child abduction, Louise Allard (+44 (0)7505 343411) or Sabrina Bailey (+44 (0)7507 343443) can be contacted directly.

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In this blog we will first look at how jurisdiction is affected and then discuss the recognition and enforcement of orders, including child maintenance.

JURISDICTION
Which country will have the power to make decisions about my family?
Both EU law and the Hague Convention state that matters regarding children should be heard in the country in which the child is ‘habitually resident’. Habitual

Residence is a legal concept which is decided on each child’s circumstances. It generally reflects the country where the child usually lives, but there are exceptions so it is advisable to check with a family solicitor if there is any doubt about how it will apply to your child.

You should be aware that Habitual Residence can change over time and a key difference between EU law and the Hague Convention is that the Hague Convention enables jurisdiction to change if a child’s habitual residence has changed during proceedings. Whereas EU law assigns a jurisdiction for the duration of proceedings.

This is a notable difference for parents who regularly move between countries and wish for proceedings to take place in a particular country. However, it is unlikely to be a major issue as there is additional guidance that can prevent a change of jurisdiction if there are corresponding matters being considered in another signatory country.

Proceedings which began before 2021 continue to be governed by EU law so a change to a child’s habitual residence should not affect the forum in which ongoing matters are heard.

RECOGNITION AND ENFORCEMENT OF CHILD ARRANGEMENTS ORDERS

What do you do if you have a court order from the UK and you want to enforce it in an EU country?

If your proceedings began before 1st January 2021, it should be reassuring to know that Court Orders will be treated as if they were made under EU law, regardless of when they are issued. This means they will be automatically recognised by the country in which enforcement is being sought and enforced swiftly.

The Hague Convention will apply to all proceedings that start after 1st January 2021. Broadly speaking, orders made in a country that has signed up to the Hague Convention can be enforced by any other country that is also a signatory. This means that if an order is made in UK it should still be enforceable in all EU countries and vice versa.

However, it is likely that the enforcement of orders could take longer because orders made in countries under the Hague Convention do not have the same ‘automatic’ recognition as granted between EU member states. If you want to enforce an order in another country, you will first need to register the order in that country or obtain a ‘declaration of enforceability’. If this relates to contact it could cause delays in you being able to see your child, so it is advisable to speak to a family solicitor as soon as possible.

There are also some small differences relating to circumstances in which orders may not be recognised, so it is advisable to seek specific legal advice from a solicitor who is aware of the relevant international laws.

CHILD MAINTENANCE
Your child maintenance decision is still recognised in the EU if it was decided before 1st January or if your case was opened before then. If you have a decision you would like to be enforced, you can contact your nearest Maintenance Enforcement Business Centre who will be able to enforce this. There are two in England and one in Wales which you can look at following this link. If you are in Scotland you can contact the court where the maintenance decision was made or apply for a new order from the local sheriff court.

Although the process is straight forward, it might be useful to speak to a solicitor first if the enforcement of your order is urgent and you need advice.

LEGAL ADVICE
If there are any international considerations in your child arrangements, it is important to seek legal advice from a specialist family solicitor as soon as possible. A solicitor with international experience will be able to guide and support you in taking the correct steps both in the UK and abroad.

With the country in lockdown and many children still home from school, we understand that it can be difficult to speak about matters that you might not want them to overhear. You can email us to arrange a call at a convenient time or follow this link to start your matter online.

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