How to avoid child abduction - travelling and moving abroad with your child

5 min Read

There are many issues for separated parents to consider when raising their child. Taking their child abroad for a holiday or moving abroad permanently are just two of them. So, before you pack your bags, where do you stand and how do you avoid child abduction?

My child lives with me, what is the problem?    

Even if you are the primary carer for your child, the law says that before you take a child abroad even for just a holiday, you must seek the permission of all those with parental responsibility or get a court order. There are some exceptions to this and to be confident of your legal position on taking a child abroad and to avoid child abduction, you may wish to consult a family solicitor. However, good practice for all families is that in the interests of having a good relationship for the sake of your child, you should consult with the other parent to seek permission with reasonable notice. Some countries require a formal letter of consent or legal document confirming you have your ex-partner’s permission to travel to that country. This can present a serious problem if you have a different surname to your child. It is very important to check the specific requirements of the country that you plan to travel to.

I am worried that my ex-partner intends to abduct our child

If you have concerns that your ex-partner is planning more than just a holiday with your child and is not intending to return to England, you must act fast and get specialist legal advice. Despite the potential criminal implications of abducting a child, child abduction can happen frequently when families separate in today’s international world. If you are worried that your child is at risk of abduction, there are urgent legal steps you can take to prevent a child from being physically removed from England. Time is of the essence - once a child has left England, a parent must rely on international law such as the Hague Convention to get their child returned. This provides some legal protection to have your child returned although can be fraught with difficulties and lead to a prolonged period of separation. Prevention is always better than cure.

What if I do not want to give permission for a holiday?

Your separation from your ex-partner may have been acrimonious but do you have a good reason for your child not to go on holiday? You may want to ask for details of where your child is going and how they are getting there. It  may satisfy you to know where your child is being taken and when they are coming back. If you have reasons for not wanting your child to go on holiday (for example, you may think the destination is too dangerous or your child too young) then you can take legal steps and ask the court to decide whether your child should go. Ultimately, the court will make a decision based on your child’s best interests.

I want to move abroad with my child, how do I avoid abducting my child?

If you plan on moving abroad permanently with your child, and the other parent is going to remain in England, you will both need to agree to the move before it can happen. You will also need to agree on child arrangements in writing, ideally with a consent order from the court. If you do not agree, you will need to get permission from the court before you can leave the country with your child. If you do apply to the court, the judge’s role is to weigh up whether or not the move would be in the best interests of your child and they will be testing the detailed reasons for moving. Your application needs to be realistically founded on practical proposals and well researched.

My ex-partner wants to move abroad with my child. What can I do to stop them?

If you oppose your child moving abroad, you will need to think carefully about how you would show the judge that the move is not right for your child and the judge will take this into consideration. Your application to move abroad permanently is likely to be stronger if you are from the country you plan to move to, if you have existing ties there or if travel to England is straightforward. In some circumstances, the court may wish to hear from your child either directly or indirectly depending on their age and whether it would be appropriate. The judge is highly likely to apply the same principles and child welfare test wherever you plan to move, although each case will be considered on its own specific facts. They are difficult and often finely balanced cases. The stakes could not be higher for the parent wishing to leave and for the parent potentially left behind. Families should consider alternative dispute resolution such as mediation as a way to attempt to find a workable solution.

We both want to move abroad with our child, happily ever after?

Moving abroad as a couple to be with family or for work is common. It is very important that couples with a child carefully consider the terms of any such move. If the move is intended to be permanent, you both need to be clear that this means you cannot easily reverse the move. It is important for couples to explore the potential scenario of one of them changing their mind and wanting to return 'home' and what happens if their relationship breaks down. If the move is intended to be for a defined period of time, for example, the duration of an employment contract, the terms of the move need to be discussed and carefully documented. This is in case one parent changes their mind and wishes to stay beyond the intended return date. You may wish to obtain legal advice from a family solicitor in England before you leave.

The significance of relocating as a couple with a child is that one parent cannot reverse the relocation without the other parent’s consent. To do so would be child abduction. Once a child is integrated into the new country (which can happen very quickly) it is the court of that country which would determine a dispute between parents and would apply their particular national law. For this reason, you may wish to obtain specialist legal advice from the country you intend to move to find out how the law in that country operates and how it deals with relocation applications. Any relocation with a child should be carefully considered and well researched. An exciting job offer to work in another country could result in you being stuck in that country with your child indefinitely.

Briefings Individuals & families Russell-Cooke Lauren Hall children abduction law family briefing