Karen Bruce Lockhart on child abduction
Kidnapped! Some legal advice
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Thursday September 28, 2006

Karen Bruce Lockhart

If after the break up of your marriage you were awarded sole custody of your children, you?d be forgiven for feeling nervous about the intentions of your estranged spouse. If there is any risk of your children being abducted and taken you know not where, read on. With either party living abroad, you could find yourself playing cat and mouse on a global scale.

The first thing you need to know if your child has been abducted is whether the country the child was living in and the country to which the child has been taken have conformed to one of the International Conventions. Go to www.hcch.net to find out if they do.

Speed is of the essence in these cases. Convention countries are enjoined to attempt to return a child to its country of habitual residence within six weeks, although some countries are better at achieving this than others. The courts of the country to which the child has been taken are simply required to order return of the child to the country of residence, except in exceptional circumstances. Note: the child is returned to the country, not necessarily to the parent, from whence it was removed. It is then that the courts can decide the future of the child.

As a parent from whom a child has been snatched, you are entitled to free legal assistance in the country to which the child has been taken. This can take many forms: in the United Kingdom it?s free legal aid, while in some countries the public prosecutor pursues the case. Abductors are left to fund themselves or obtain legal aid, if available. This assistance does not include the cost of lawyers in the child?s country of habitual residence, or lawyers in the country where the child was taken if a public authority is dealing with the matter. Nor will it normally fund accommodation, for instance if the parent from whom the child was taken pursues the child to another country.

Whether or not the matter is a convention one, you should immediately contact a charity call Reunite. They have a working knowledge of the law in regard to children in many countries worldwide, and can give advice as to what to do if you fear your child might be abducted.

Again, whether or not you are lucky enough to be involved with convention countries, you should contact the Foreign Office, or embassy, or consulate, immediately. Where the conventions do not apply, the Foreign Office has little power but can assist in obtaining lawyers in a foreign country and giving general advice.

Where the countries, or either of them, are not convention countries, the matter must be pursued through the courts of the country to which the child has been taken. That is, if persuasion cannot achieve anything. In this case the instruction of a lawyer in the country concerned is essential. Whether the country concerned will recognise a foreign custody or similar order, or will be willing to order return, is entirely a matter for the law of that country. The courts of the country of habitual residence have no jurisdiction.

Usually such children leave the country very quickly, but if you do not have a residence order ready to hand, it is always worth contacting the passport office, and in the UK obtaining an injunction (England and Wales) or interdict (Scotland) against the child being removed from Britain. Such orders (and residence orders) enable any police station to alert all ports (including airports) to watch for the child. This is known as a Port Stop Order. Similar orders may be available in other countries.


England and Wales Central Authority
International Child Abduction and Contact Unit
81 Chancery Lane
DX 0012 London Chancery Lane

Central Authority for Scotland
Scottish Executive Justice Department
Civil Justice & International Division
St Andrew's House
Regent Road
Tel: / 4829

Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Consular Division
Old Admiralty Building

United Kingdom Passport Service
London Passport Office
Globe House
89 Eccleston Square
Tel: (General Enquiries)
Tel: (UKPS Advice Line)

Reunite International Child Abduction Centre
P.O. Box 7124
Leicester LE1 7XX
United Kingdom
Tel: (Advice Line)

Missing persons helpline
This a Freefone number from within the United Kingdom.
If you are calling from outside the UK, you can reach the Missing Persons Helpline on:

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