Child Abduction is when a child is removed from one country (where they are habitually resident) and is retained in another without the permission of all parties who have parental responsibility or without the permission of the Court.
One of the main ways in which the parent or guardian can seek the return of an abducted child is under the provisions of the Hague Convention 1980, which Northern Ireland is a party to. The main provisions of the Hague Convention are incorporated into UK domestic law through the Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985.
There are 89 countries which are signatory to the Hague Convention. Some examples include:
- United States of America (USA)
The Hague Convention provides that the parent or guardian from whom the child has been removed may apply to a Court in the country where the child is being held for a Return Order (that is, for an Order that the child be returned to the country where the child had been taken from).
For countries which are not signatory to the Hague Convention, the High Court in Northern Ireland may prevent the removal of a child from Northern Ireland by making the child a ward of the Court upon the application of a parent to the Court.
It is also important to note that a child must be under the age of 16 for the Hague Convention to apply.
Each country has a Central Authority that is the administrative centre, which deals with all applications under the Hague Convention. These cases are categorised as either incoming or outgoing.
An Incoming Case is where a child is abducted from a Convention Country into Northern Ireland. For incoming cases, a parent/guardian should contact us at the outset and we will assist them in contacting the Central Authority of the country in which they are living. That Central Authority may forward the application to the Authority in Northern Ireland, or if a parent prefers they may apply directly to the Central Authority of Northern Ireland. The Central Authority assesses the application and, provided it meets the requirements, we are appointed to make an application to the Court on behalf of the parent.
An Outgoing Case is where a child is abducted from Northern Ireland to another Convention Country. For outgoing cases, a parent should contact us at the earliest possible opportunity. We will assist them in contacting the Central Authority in Northern Ireland to commence an application for return.
If your child has been abducted and his or her whereabouts are unknown, you can make an application to the Court for a “Seek and Find” Order or, for an Order seeking disclosure of information which might assist you in finding your child under the Family Law Act 1986.
Of course for those parents who find themselves in a situation whereby they have wrongly been accused of abducting their Child for example, where the other parent has in fact given permission or where the parent has acquiesced over time we have expertise in defending theses type of Hague Convention applications. Upon receipt of knowledge of an application, we would advise those parents to contact us at the earliest opportunity.
One is very mindful of the stress and upset to parent and child in these cases, as are the Courts, and these cases are therefore given priority and heard urgently (a case is usually brought before the Court within 6 weeks of the application).
Legal Aid funding is available for any parent seeking the return of their child to Northern Ireland, regardless of your financial circumstances. However, a parent who has removed their child from where they are habitually resident will not automatically qualify and must apply for it in the usual way.
It is important to note that any abduction of a child is a criminal matter and you should contact the Police at the earliest opportunity.
Millar McCall Wylie are members of Reunite International, a panel of advisory solicitors who deal with Child abduction and Hague Convention matters. If you require advice on any matter outlined in this article please contact Clare Lenaghan or Louise McNally in our Family and Matrimonial Team on 02890 200050.