Child abduction and custody abroad

In modern society, families are becoming increasingly international, with people from different countries and cultures intermarrying, forming relationships and starting families. Increasingly children are being moved between jurisdictions either by agreement between their parents as a result of legal proceedings, or as a result of parental child abduction.

It is crucial that anyone wishing to move children or seeking the return of children from one country to another, obtains advice from a specialist in child abduction law. It is not sufficient to seek advice from a general family lawyer, who may not be familiar with this fast evolving and complex area of law, where a wrong step can have far reaching consequences.  Time is of the essence in international cases so it is crucial that specialist legal advice is obtained promptly to ensure the best possible outcome.

Dawson Cornwell is recognised globally as a leading expert in this field.  We are renowned for our work on international children matters and have a wealth of experience dealing with cases where children have been removed within the UK and abroad.  We are a member of the Ministry of Justice, International Child Abduction & Contact Unit panel of specialist solicitors and are routinely instructed in Hague and European Convention cases.  Our lawyers, many of whom are Resolution Accredited Specialists, are frequently involved in ground breaking cases.

Child abduction is governed by many international conventions, in particular, the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction which deals primarily with children who are wrongfully removed from one jurisdiction to another or who are retained outside the country of their habitual residence. That Convention sets out the law and procedure that should be followed to ensure the immediate return of children to the jurisdiction of their habitual residence.

The Hague Convention also contains a provision for securing the effective exercise of rights of access/contact.  An application for contact would be made in the usual way under the domestic law of the relevant country, namely the Children Act 1989 in England and Wales.

Additionally the 1980 European Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Decisions Concerning Custody of Children makes provision for the registration, recognition and enforcement of existing decisions relating to custody and for the return of children who have been improperly removed from another signatory state in breach of a custody decision. This is now confined to a very small number of European countries, which are not members of the European Community, and has been largely superseded by Brussels II revised, which is an EC Regulation that applies to all European Community Member States, except for Denmark.  Following the UK's departure from the European Union, Brussels II revised only applies to Hague Convention applications which commenced in the UK before 31 December 2020 in relation to another EU state.   From 1 January 2021 new cases will continue to rely solely on the 1980 and 1996 Hague Conventions, the latter of which effectively assists in making the orders of any other signatory country enforceable in the UK.

Children are also removed from England to countries that are not “convention states” or brought to England from a non-convention state.  Although in such cases the legal issues involved are much more complex,  our specialist lawyers have extensive experience in this field and are able to advise on such cases.

Legal Aid is available in certain types of child abduction cases and our specialist lawyers are able to assess your eligibility and, where possible, apply for funding.  We are able to make an emergency application for Legal Aid for applicants in cases where children are brought to England and Wales.

Our 24 hour emergency telephone line in the event of a child abduction is: - +44 (0) 79 5252 5699