Despite the Covid related difficulties, summer is still the time when children most frequently undertake international travel with a parent to enjoy a holiday abroad or to spend time with a parent living abroad. All too frequently the child is then not returned to the parent who cares for them in the UK, causing distress and long term damage to the child.
Foreign travel arrangements can be fraught with difficulties and it is in these circumstances where a child is at most risk of abduction. We have provided guidance on the steps you can take to protect your child from being abducted.
Can a child be abducted by a parent?
Yes, a child can be abducted by a parent. If for example the non-resident parent, being the parent with whom the child does not live on a day to day basis, retains your child for longer than was agreed either informally or via a court order or fails to return them at all, that is child abduction. Most abductions are carried out by parents.
Does the fact your child has a British passport mean they will automatically be returned to the UK?
No, as the relevant factor is not your child’s nationality or that of either parent but where your child was last “habitually resident“, a legal concept meaning where your child lives regularly.
What are the safeguards for children travelling abroad to see the other parent?
- You should always have a written agreement between you, noting the purpose of the trip i.e. a holiday for a defined period of time, or travel in compliance with a contact order.
- You should ensure that there is a return ticket and you should seek a scanned copy of that.
- Further there should be a set date in any agreement noting when your child is to return. Many border controls require sight of such an agreement when a child travels alone or even with a single parent, so it is sensible to make sure that you and /or your child travel with a copy of that agreement duly signed by both parents. Some countries require more formality in seeking any such agreement to be notarised.
- Finally, if there are genuine reasons to amend any travel arrangements, you should ensure that it is endorsed in an updated written agreement between the parents setting out the circumstances giving rise to the change. It is important however to define a return date and not to leave that open.
Is child abduction a criminal offence?
Yes, but mostly the remedies to bring about the return of your child are dealt with as a family law issue in the High Court in London and via the Central Authority of the country where your child has been retained.
What can you do if your child is not returned?
You should immediately contact a specialist solicitor as time is of the essence in these matters. If you allow your child to stay longer, the other parent could argue that you have consented to a change in your child’s residence or that your child has “settled” with the other parent as grounds to prevent their return.