Child Abduction and Parental Rights
Taking a child out of a country without the proper legal consent is known as child abduction. This is the case whether a child is taken out of the UK or sent out of the UK without the permission of the person who has Parental Responsibility for the child, or without the court’s permission. If a child leaves the UK for less than four weeks and does so by virtue of a person who has a residence order, this will not be unlawful.
The Criminal OffenceIf a person removes a child under the age of 16 from the UK, this is a criminal offence under the Child Abduction Act 1984. Consent would be required from the mother, the father (as long as the father has parental responsibility), a person who has a residence order for the child, a person who is living with the child, a Guardian or special guardian.
The parent who is seeking to take the child abroad should gain the consent of the other parent or the permission of the court. This applies whether or not the other parent has parental responsibility and has been established as ‘good practice’ in case law. If someone else has parental responsibility (apart from the parent who is seeking to take the child abroad), there will need to be either oral or written consent from these people.
If a child is subject to either a care order or Residence Order, the person or people with parental responsibility will have to provide their consent in writing. In the absence of obtaining this consent, it is possible to seek the court’s consent instead.
Staying Within The UKIf a child is going to live somewhere else within the UK, this does not require any consent from anyone else. This is, however, not the same as abducting a child to another part of the UK. If a child is abducted but stays within the UK, and that child is subject to a court order that was made in the UK, the court order remains enforceable. It should also be noted that a court has the power to require passports to be surrendered and, if necessary, for a child’s whereabouts to be disclosed.
Fathers without Parental ResponsibilityIf the mother of a child is suspected of wanting to take the couple’s child to another part of the UK, the father can apply to the court for either a prohibited steps order and/or a residence order. If a residence order is granted to an unmarried father, he will automatically get parental responsibility.
International law is on his side, and he may be able to force the return of the child to their place of residence. This is, however, dependent on the father being able to demonstrate that he had been in regular contact with the child.
What To Do If You Suspect Your Child Might Abducted
- Contact the police. They will ask you to make a statement.
- See a solicitor to find out whether you should seek a specific issue, residence or prohibited steps order. In other cases, you may be able to apply to the High Court to make the child a ‘ward of court’.
- Speak to Reunite, the international child abduction centre.
- Contact the passport agency and ask them not to allow a passport to be issued to the child, or ask them to get the passport surrendered (this will normally mean you need to produce a court order).