When a parent abducts a child

by Peter Magee on September 27, 2010

Andrew Thompson

Abducted child, Andrew Thompson has recently been relocated.

You may have heard by now of the remarkable case of Andrew Thompson, a young boy  recently located in Europe after being abducted by his mother two and a half years ago. Andrew’s parents were involved in hostile Family Court litgation in Australia when Andrew was a toddler. In the middle of the proceedings, Melinda suddenly left Australia and has been on the run until now.

If you’re worried about the possibility of your child being taken out of the country without your permission, here are some things you should know:

International agencies work together to prevent child abduction and arrange for the return of children to Australian parents.

Many countries are a signatory to the Hague Convention regarding child abduction. This is a legal treaty signed by countries in which they agree to assist one another. Australia is a signatory to the Convention, as are many Asian countries, most of Europe including the UK, and the US. Countries that are not signatories include, for example, Lebanon.

If a child normally lives in Australia, and is abducted overseas to a Hague Convention country (say Germany), then the ‘Central Authority’ in Australia works with the ‘Central Authority’ in Germany to recover the child back to the country where the child was ‘habitually resident’ at the time of the abduction.

If the child was abducted to a non-Hague Convention country, say Lebanon for example, the Australian court needs to decide first if Australia is the appropriate place to determine the issues (eg, who the child should live with). Sometimes a foreign court order will be made before the Family Court of Australia can decide where the child should live. In such cases, the Family Court may recognise the foreign order and take no further action.

At other times the Australian parent left behind can get an order in Australia which prevents  a foreign court making an order about the child (by getting an order that the abducting parent does not start or continue a case overseas).

How to prevent international abduction

International child abduction occurs where a child is taken out of Australia by a parent without permission. It can also include cases where foreign children are removed from their countries to Australia. It is usually done by stealth and before the other parent becomes aware of the intention to leave Australia.

The key element is that the child was taken out of a country where he or she was ‘habitually resident’.

If you suspect your child may be at risk of abduction you need to act fast. If you don’t already have court orders in place, you can file an application for interim and/or final parenting orders. In those orders, you can ask for an ‘Airport Watchlist Order.’ This order will put the name of the child on the airport and ports watchlists operated by the Australian Federal Police.

The watch list will signal an alert if a child is about to leave Australia at customs and the child is likely to be prohibited from leaving Australia at the airport or at any port.

The Australian Federal Police will place the child’s name on the watchlist as soon as the application is filed. You do not already need to have the orders made, the application itself will be sufficient in the short term.

Are you considering taking a child overseas without the other parent’s permission or knowledge? If so, you can be in breach of the Family Law Act if you take the child out of Australia while proceedings are pending.

If you think your child may be taken out of the country against your wishes, you need to seek urgent legal advice.  Call us and talk to a lawyer with expertise in child custody matters.

Coming soon: How to search for an abducted child, and what are the warning signs of impending abduction.

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