In UK children law there is a legal concept of “parental child abduction”. Parental child abduction occurs when a parent takes a child out of the UK without:
The agreement of the other parent and any other person with parental responsibility for the child; or
Without permission from the family court.
Child abduction solicitors
To speak to children law solicitor, Angelique Holm, or to a member of London based OTS Solicitors children law team about parental child abduction concerns or for children law advice on taking children overseas call us on 0203 959 9123 for a discussion about how we can best help you and your family. Alternatively, contact us through our online enquiry form.
OTS Solicitors has substantial experience in helping families caught up in allegations of child abduction and parents needing advice about whether they can take their child abroad on holiday or overseas to live. With an international client base, our children law solicitors provide expert advice on your best options if you are worried about child abduction or want to move overseas with your child.
OTS Solicitors and child abduction law
If you are worried about parental child abduction you should get speedy legal advice because time can be of the essence to secure a court order to stop a parent taking a child overseas without your agreement.
If you are planning to take your child abroad on holiday or on an extended trip to see family it is essential that you take children law advice before your planned trip. That is because many parents do not believe that UK child abduction law applies to them because:
They or their children are not British citizens; or
They are living in the UK on an immigration visa and so they and their children are not domiciled in the UK; or
They are an international family with homes in more than one country; or
Taking a child overseas by one parent is not classed as child abduction in their country of origin or country of nationality.
In all the above scenarios a parent could be guilty of the offence of child abduction and be in breach of UK children law if they take their child abroad without the agreement of the other parent and all those with parental responsibility for the child or permission of the family court. That is because an English family has jurisdiction to decide whether your child can go overseas if your child is habitually resident in England and Wales.
Habitual residence is different to British citizenship or domicile. That means the English court can decide on the custody and contact arrangements for a child (called a child arrangements order) or whether a child should be taken abroad on holiday or to live (sometimes called a prohibited steps or specific issue order) even though the child and neither parent has British citizenship or Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.
UK Child abduction law and holidays abroad
Most parents assume that they have the right to take their child on holiday to any destination of their choice. That is not the case unless the parent has a residence order or a child arrangements order that says the child lives with them.
If there is an order that says a child lives with them, a parent can take a child on holiday abroad for a period of four weeks without first needing to get the other parent’s agreement (or the agreement of anyone else who has parental responsibility for the child) to the foreign holiday or needing a court order giving permission.
It is sensible to get legal advice on the wording of the residence or child arrangements order if you are a parent wanting to take your child on holiday or if you are a parent who is worried about a child not being returned to the UK at the conclusion of an overseas holiday.
Most parents do not have a child arrangements order in relation to their child. That means if you want to take your child overseas for any period of time you need:
The other parent’s agreement to the holiday – the agreement should be in writing; and
The agreement of anyone else with parental responsibility for the child ; or
A court order giving you either permission to take the child on a specific holiday or giving you general permission to take the child on holidays abroad for a specified period of time.
Court orders giving permission to take a child abroad on holiday take time to organise so it is best to take legal advice to see if you need parental agreement or a court order and to allow sufficient time to talk to your ex-partner about your holiday plans and get their written agreement to the holiday or a court order.
Child abduction and wrongful retention
Some parents worry that their child may not be returned to the UK after they have given their agreement to a holiday or the court has made an order. This is known as “wrongful retention” and can be of particular concern to a parent when there are family connections to an overseas country. This can be grounds to object to a holiday or for the court to put safeguards in the court order to ensure that the child returns to the UK at the end of their holiday.
UK child abduction law and moving overseas with a child
If you are part of an international family with connections to more than the one country then it is not unusual, after a separation or divorce, for one parent to want to take a child overseas to live. Even if you do not have any pre-existing connections with another country you may want to move abroad with your child because your new partner lives overseas or you have a new job in a foreign country.
If a parent decides to leave England and Wales without the agreement of the other parent or permission from a court the parent may commit the criminal offence of child abduction.
Advice from a UK child abduction and children law solicitor is vital before you make your move with your child. Whilst the court cannot stop an adult leaving the UK you could commit a criminal offence of child abduction or be stopped from taking your child with you if the family court makes an order prohibiting the child’s removal from the UK.
If you want to move overseas permanently with your child and the other parent will not agree to your plans then even if you have a residence order or a child arrangements order you will still need court permission to take the child overseas to live.
An application to take a child abroad to live should include detailed plans for housing, schooling, and contact arrangements with the other parent and extended family. The family court will then consider the application and make a decision on what it believes is in the child’s best interests.
UK child abduction law and objecting to a move overseas
If you are a parent who fears that your partner will just “up sticks” and move overseas with your child then you can make an application to court, supported by evidence, to get orders to protect your child.
If your child has already been taken abroad then quick action and expert child abduction legal advice must be taken to give the best chance of the child being returned to the UK.
A number of countries are signatories to the Hague Convention. The Hague Convention aims to return children to the country that they have been taken from as quickly as possible. There are limited circumstances where the court may refuse to return the child to their original country. If the child is returned to the country they were taken from then the court in that country will then decide the parenting arrangements for the child.