A rise in child abductions following divorce

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There has in recent years been a rise in reported cases of parents abducting their children following separation or divorce. Sometimes these cases are high profile and widely reported in the press.

Figures released by the Foreign Office this year indicate that abduction of children by an estranged parent is a significant problem in the UK. It has launched a campaign to raise awareness of this issue and how leaving the country with your child, if you have not received permission from everyone who has parental responsibility, is illegal.

Anyone with a Residents Order in force can take a child out of the country for up to 21 days without permission of the other parent but in all of the circumstances permission is required.

If a parent wishes to relocate abroad permanently an application to the court can be made under the Children Act, which can override the lack of consent from the other parent. This is only likely to be ordered by the court if it considers the move is in the best interests of the child taking all of the circumstances into account, including the contact the child has and will have with the remaining parent should the move happen.

If a child is taken overseas without consent there are a number of legal steps that can be taken to have them returned. Since 1 November 2012 this process has been improved by ratification of the 1996 Hague Convention (if the child has been taken to a country that has also signed up to the Convention).

Preparatory steps are often best and can prevent significant distress, costs and delay if the illegal removal of a child is about to or has happened.

In any such circumstances independent legal advice from a specialist family lawyer is vital.