International child abduction

by Peter Magee on July 5, 2012

Peter Magee

The increase in cross border marriages, de facto relationships and internet dating are factors contributing to the increased risk of international child abduction following the breakdown of a parental relationship. Jenny Brockie of the SBS programme Insight hosted on 1 May 2012 a feature on “Parental Abduction” which highlighted the serious decisions confronting left behind parents, and the negative psychological flow on effects to children following abduction. Insight report that:

  1. Australia has the highest rate per capita of international parental child abductions in the world.
  2. In 2011 there were 85 reported cases of abduction from Australia to Hague Convention countries.
  3. In 2011 DFAT reports that there were 35 Australian child abductions to non Hague countries.

Left behind parents are able to apply to bring their children home via the Hague Convention if it applies or through local proceedings in the foreign jurisdiction in countries where the Hague Convention does not apply. Both options are expensive and legally technical, and offer no guarantee of ultimate success, even in cases where the abducting parent has clearly acted out of malice. Another option additional to or, in the alternative to the legal channels is to engage the services of private investigators such as one of Brockie’s guests, who specialise in international child retrievals. The guest discussed the strategies and techniques he uses and these include the contravention of foreign laws and using methods such as surveillance and sedation of the child.

Suppose you were a left behind parent, what action would you take? Suppose you are planning to leave Australia with your child, will the following information make you reconsider?

Brockie offered the expertise of a child psychologist with 25 years experience working in the family law system, and he highlighted the issues for the child in words to the effect of:

“Inevitably abducted children are told negative things about the left behind parent. They might be told they are dead, dangerous or violent. The child believes this because the child is reliant on that parent and emotionally dependant on that parent in the situation. Outcomes are poor for children in these situations. They become traumatised. Outwards they appear fine but this disguises the internal turmoil. The fact that they appear fine and okay only heightens the risk that they are traumatised and detaching. They become anxious and confused. Then if the left behind parent then suddenly re enters their life the triangulation becomes too much for them.”

What then of parents who assert that they are fearful of the other parent and flee?

The expert identifies that this is a really complicated equation, but that it is fair to say:

“Every case deserves individual attention. But if you consider a continuum, then at one end there is a parent acting in a justifiable protective manner. But it is important to note that in many cases an abducting parent fleeing a violent and destructive relationship may be suffering with reactive depression. Then at the other end is the parent who has turned a delusion into a belief and no matter what anyone says to them they believe they have been misunderstood or misrepresented. The story challenging their belief is not and cannot be correct. “

The Commonwealth is currently considering making international child abduction a criminal offence. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, and I wonder if the deterrence of the possibility of criminal sanction will really be sufficient to prevent a parent suffering with reactive depression or delusional beliefs to abduct a child? If you were a left behind parent would you be willing to endorse the contravention of laws in and outside of Australia if it meant having your child returned? What of the risk of criminal prosecution in a foreign jurisdiction and your extradition for breaches of foreign laws?

If you are a left behind parent we can help you bring your child home by applying our collective knowledge and expertise to your case and guide you strategically through the legal channels and improve your prospects of ultimate success.

If you are considering leaving Australia with your child and without the other parents consent (and we acknowledge that in some cases this might be an appropriate thing to do) then we think it is imperative for your long term relationship with your child that you seek our advice before you depart, because if in the long term you are ordered to return to Australia then you may pay a heavy price in terms of your parental relationship with your child.

If you are in a relationship where you consider there is a risk of abduction, then there are preventative measures which you can put in place now. You do not have to be divorced or separated for these measures to be put in place. Don’t put off for tomorrow by which time your child is in hiding and on the run, that which can be done today. All too often from clients we sadly hear ‘we wish we’d come and seen you earlier.’

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