The Herald Sun recently reported that an American filmmaker had made a fictional feature film named after his 11 year old daughter who went missing with her mother while in America during a custody battle over 10 years ago. The filmmaker, Brozzi Lunetta, believed that his daughter, Reya, was in hiding with her mother in Australia. Mr Lunetta hoped that the film would inspire Reya to find him, as Australian authorities had been unable to find her. The Australian Federal Police said that Reya had been removed from Australia, however Mr Lunetta said that there was no proof of that. (“Dad makes film in bid to find abducted daughter”, by Matthew Henry, published on ninemsm on 18 March 2013).
If a family member were to disappear with your child within Australia, then you could make an application to one of the Family Law Courts (“the Court”) seeking information about your child’s whereabouts (known as a “Location Order”) or seeking to have your child recovered and delivered to you (known as a “Recovery Order”). A Location Order may involve the assistance of a Commonwealth Government Department such as Centrelink. This type of location order is known as a “Commonwealth Information Order”. A Recovery Order may involve the assistance of the Australian Federal Police. In considering whether to make a Location Order or a Recovery Order, the primary consideration for the Court is the best interests of the child. It would also be open to you to apply for a Publication Order, which would generally permit the media to report details and publish photographs of your child until they are recovered.
Where family law parenting proceedings have been commenced in Australia, neither party to the proceedings is entitled to leave the country with the child the subject of the proceedings unless they have obtained the consent of the other party or a Court order.
If you believe that there is a risk that a family member may remove your child from Australia without obtaining your consent, then you can make an Application to the Court seeking that your child’s passport be delivered to the Court, or seeking that the Australian Federal Police place your child’s name on the “Airport Watch List”. An Airport Watch List Order would prevent your child from being removed from Australia by any person.
In circumstances where your child is taken overseas without your consent, or has not been returned to Australia, then the difficulty of the return of your child, will depend on whether the country to which your child has been taken is a member of the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Hague Convention”). If the country to which your child has been taken is a member of the Hague Convention, then there are mutual obligations in place between that country and Australia, in relation to the return of abducted children to their country of usual residence. If the country to which your child has been taken is not a member of the Hague Convention, then your options would include initiating proceedings in that country for the return of your child.