If you moved abroad with your spouse and subsequently decided to divorce, you would want to know that any court judgement was based on your children’s best interests.
In instances where there are conflicting parental views as to where children will reside and with whom, it can be up to a local court to determine custody arrangements. Sometimes a UK parent has very real concerns about how well a foreign court addresses this.
The Hague Convention
Under the Child Abduction Act 1984, it is a criminal offence for a parent or guardian to take a child out of the UK for more than 28 days, without the permission of any person who has shared parental responsibility for that child, or a consenting order from a court.
The UK, along with 67 other state signatories, is bound by The Hague Convention’s regulations relating to the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In the event of a child being taken abroard illegally, the states concerned agree to work together to swiftly return the child to his or her country of residence. This of course can mean that a UK citizen living abroad is at the mercy of the courts of the foreign country.
In instances where a child has been taken to a non-Hague Convention country, the situation can be more complicated. The Foreign Office will assist in some cases where the whereabouts of the child are known, though it will not involve itself in the legal processes of another country.
A 96% Increase in Child Abduction Cases in One Year
In April 2012, the Office of International Family Justice reported a 96% increase in the number of new child abduction cases reported to its office in 2011 (180) compared with 2010 (92).
In a BBC interview earlier this year, Lady Catherine Meyer described how her “world collapsed” after being separated from her two sons for nine years after her marriage ended. When her sons went to Germany to visit their father for a holiday, she received a 21-page letter from him refusing to send them back.
The media attention which followed, led to other parents in similar situations contacting Lady Meyer for advice and she now runs the charity PACT – Parents and Abducted Children Together, which she set up in 1999.
The tip of the iceberg
Lady Meyer believes that cases reported to the Office of International Family Justice may be “the tip of the iceberg.” PACT estimates that one child goes missing every five minutes in the UK alone: as a result of running away, abduction by someone they know, or (more rarely) abduction by a stranger.
Recognising that the law does not always help the parents of children abducted by a family member, Lady Meyer says: “We constantly hear about fathers’ rights, mothers’ rights. The parents should realise that it is horrendous for the children.”