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Does BREXIT change rules Parental Child Abduction?

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Unless you have a court order, you need the consent of everyone who has parental responsibility before you can take a child overseas. This is the case even if you have parental responsibility and the child really wants to go. Even if it is only for a few days you still need the consent of everyone who holds parental responsibility.

The only exception in England and Wales is if you have a court order directing that you can take the child abroad or if you have a Child Arrangements Order that states the child lives with you, in which case you can usually take them overseas for up to 28 days without seeking consent.

If a parent, guardian or relative takes or keeps a child overseas without the agreement of everyone who has parental responsibility, it is known as International Parental Child Abduction, which is a serious offence.

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 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.

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.

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.