Information

Abduction

This page provides information on abduction and the unlawful removal of a child from the UK including how to prevent abduction, what to do if a child is abducted and how to lawfully remove a child from the UK.

It is a criminal offence to take a child under 16 out of the country without the appropriate consent

What is child abduction?

Child abduction is when a person takes or sends a child under 16 out of the UK without the permission of those with parental responsibility or permission from the court. (For more information see our information page on Parental Responsibility.)

If a person has a Child Arrangements Order for a child to live with them they will not be acting unlawfully if the child is taken or sent out of the UK for up to 28 days without the appropriate consent. If a person has a Special Guardianship Order for a child they will not be acting unlawfully if the child is taken or sent out of the UK for up to three months without the appropriate consent.

A mother can take a child out of the UK without a father’s permission if the father does not have parental responsibility

There are three broad categories of child abduction

  1. Abduction where a child is taken overseas without the other parents consent—this may be a criminal offence under UK law.
  2. Wrongful retention where a child has been keptin a foreign country following an overseas trip without the appropriate consent.
  3. Threat of abduction where there is a risk that a child will be taken overseas without the appropriate consent.

What is the law relating to child abduction?

It is a criminal offence under the Child Abduction Act 1984 for a person connected with a child under the age of 16 to take or send that child out of the UK without the appropriate consent.

Appropriate consent is needed from the:

  • mother of the child
  • father of the child if he has parental responsibility
  • guardian of the child
  • special guardian of the child
  • holder of a residence order (in place before 22.04.14) for the child
  • holder of residence under a Child Arrangements Order for the child
  • Local Authority if the child is in care
  • Court if the child is detained or a ward of court.

What if I cannot obtain the appropriate consent to take my child abroad?

When two or more people with parental responsibility for a child (or in the list above) cannot come to an agreement about taking the child out of the UK, then the person wishing to take the child will have to obtain the courts permission to do so. Details on how to do this are detailed further below on this page. It may be a criminal offence and/or contempt of court to take the child out of the country without the appropriate consent.

How long can I take my child out of the UK for without breaking the law?

If a parent has a residence order in place (before 22.04.14), or is the holder of residence under a Child Arrangements Order then they may take the child out of the UK for up to 28 days without the consent of anyone else who has parental responsibility for the child unless there is an order in place expressly prohibiting this. If the parent intends to take the child out of the UK for longer than 28 days, then they will need the appropriate consent. If this cannot be obtained then a court order would be required.

The courts can impose restrictions or require that a passport be surrendered if a parent is concerned about the frequency of trips abroad or fears that the other parent may abduct the child.

If a parent wants to take the child abroad for a short holiday it is sensible to seek the agreement of the other parent before going. Parents should be reasonable about this and provide the other parent with plenty of notice.

How can I stop my ex partner moving to another area in the UK with my child?

If a parent is going to move to another area within the England and Wales and take the child with them, that parent does not need the consent of anyone else with parental responsibility.

If the other parent does not want the child to move then they can apply to the courts for a prohibited steps order, and ask the court to prevent the parent from moving abroad with the child. The child's welfare will be the paramount consideration of the court. The Court of Appeal has confirmed that the court will consider the distance that the parent wishes to move and how contact with the left-behind parent will continue.

What happens when a child is abducted, but remains within the UK?

It is not the criminal offence of abduction to remove a child to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland however the consent of a person with parental responsibility is required to remove a child, even temporarily, from the jurisdiction of England and Wales. It is a criminal offence to remove a child to the Channel Islands or Isle of Man without the appropriate consent.

If there are any existing court orders in respect of the child under 16, they will be recognised and enforced in all courts over the UK as long as the order has been registered in the court of that jurisdiction. You will need to send a certified copy of the order to the court who can then register the order and acquire the power to enforce it.

How can I trace my child within the UK?

The longer it takes to trace a child, the harder the effective return of the child may become and the more likely the child is to be settled in his or her new residence and another disturbance may be against his or her best interests.

A Local Authority who has parental responsibility for a child by virtue of a care order or an Emergency Protection Order may apply to the court for a recovery order to have the child's whereabouts found.

If the child is believed to be within the UK but their location is not known, it is possible for parents and connected persons to make a court application to try and determine the child’s whereabouts. This can be done using a C4 form which can be obtained from your Local Family Court. For more information on this application see our page on Locating a child.

What happens if I illegally removed my child from the UK, but I was unaware that I was breaking the law?

If a parent removes their child from the UK without the appropriate consent then they will be committing a criminal offence.

There are three defences to this criminal offence:

  • Where the parent believed that the other parent has consented or would consent if he or she was aware of all the circumstances.
  • Where the parent had taken all reasonable steps to communicate to the other parent the intention to remove the child, but had been unable to do so.
  • Where the other parent whose consent is required has unreasonably refused to give that consent—this defence is not available if the person who refused consent holds a Residence Order, residence under a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order or if there is an order in place prohibiting removal.

I am an unmarried father without parental responsibility, what can I do to prevent my child’s mother from taking my child?

If an unmarried father without parental responsibility fears that his child will be taken to another part of the UK, then he could consider getting a Prohibited Steps Order and/or applying to become the resident parent under a Child Arrangements Order.

A Prohibited Steps Order, if granted by the courts, will prevent the mother taking the child and may require that the child's passport is surrendered. A Child Arrangements Order if granted by the courts will decide where and with whom the child shall live. For more information on a Child Arrangements Order see our information page on Residence

If an unmarried father without parental responsibility fears that his child will be abducted and taken out of the UK, there are some steps he can take to prevent this.

How can I prevent abduction?

If a parent fears that their child will be taken abroad without his or her consent, then they should consider the following:

  • Alert the local police station; the parent will be asked to make a detailed statement.
  • Where there is risk of abduction, a parent can apply for:
    • A Prohibited Steps Order from the courts to prevent the removal of the child from the UK. A breach of this order would be contempt of court.
    • A Specific Issue Ordercould settle a dispute about whether a child is allowed to leave the UK. To apply for a Prohibited Steps Order or Specific Issue Order you will need a C100 form. This can be requested from your local Family Court or downloaded here. For information on fees for this application please contact your local Family Court. If you are on a low income and/or in receipt of certain benefits you may be eligible for a fee exemption or fee reduction; please see form EX160 and guidance form EX160A for further details on fee exemption. Once the C100 has been completed you would need to file this at your local Family Court. For further details on this process and what the court will take into account when making a decision please see our How-to Guide on Removal from Jurisdiction.
    • A Child Arrangements Order to determine with whom the child should live (this can be applied for on a form C100).
    • In certain circumstances a parent could apply to the High Court to make the child a ward of court, this will immediately freeze the situation and prevent the child being taken abroad, and any attempt to take the child abroad will be contempt of court. If you are seeking this route please contact a Solicitor or see our information page on Wardship.
  • Contact HM Passport Office and ask them to surrender a passport or ask them not to grant a passport to the child. They will usually need to see a court order (as mentioned above), but they are not necessary in the case of unmarried mothers wishing to lodge an objection.
  • Contact Reunite: The International Child Abduction Centre. They can provide parents with a Child Abduction Prevention Pack, which you can download here.

How can I legally move abroad with my child?

If there is only one parent with parental responsibility for the child, the parent is able to lawfully remove their child from the UK providing that it is not forbidden by a court order.

Where there is another person or persons with parental responsibility, the parent will need to obtain either oral or written consent from those people. Where there is a residence order in place (before 22.04.14), a Child Arrangements Order or care order in place, written consent from everyone with parental responsibility will be required.

If the parent wishing to go abroad is unable to obtain this consent, then they can apply to the court and ask for the court’s consent. Please see our How-to Guide on Removal from Jurisdiction for more information

When a court makes a decision about the removal of a child, the child’s welfare will be the paramount consideration

What do the Court look at when considering whether to grant permission to take a child abroad?

The courts will decide the case with the welfare of the child being their paramount consideration and make their decision by determining what is in the best interest of the child.

The courts are likely to consider:

  • The wishes and feelings of the child.
  • The child’s physical, emotional or educational needs.
  • How the change in circumstance is likely to affect the child.
  • The age, sex, background and any other characteristics that the court may find relevant.
  • Any harm that the child has suffered or is likely to suffer.
  • How capable each parent (and anyone else the court considers relevant) is of meeting the child’s needs.
  • The powers available to the court (such as prohibited steps or specific issue orders).

The courts will also follow certain guidelines, which are:

  • That the reasonable proposals of the parent wishing to move abroad carry great weight.
  • These proposals must be scrutinised with care and the court must be satisfied that the parent has a genuine motivation for wanting to move (i.e. it is not the intention of the parent to end contact between the child and the other parent).
  • It is very important to look at the effect that reduced contact or no contact with the parent and other family members left behind will have on the child.
  • There must be significant opportunity for the child to continue contact with the parent left behind.

For further details on moving abroad permanently and the court process, please see our How-to Guide on Removal from Jurisdiction.

What do I do if my child has been abducted and may be taken to another country?

  • Report the incident to the police. When a child has been abducted and is considered to be in danger of serious harm or death, the police will use The Child Rescue Alert Scheme. This can provide an early warning system to local radio and television stations. The police also have the power to arrest anyone who is suspected of abducting a child and they can circulate the child's name to all UK points of departure via the Police National Computer.
  • Contact a solicitor in the UK or organisation that can help such as Reunite, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit at the Official Solicitors Department.

Some countries are members of an international agreement which seeks to return abducted children to the country in which they normally live. This agreement is known as the Hague Convention. To check whether a particular country has signed the Convention visit www.hcch.net.

What can the law do to help me if my child has been abducted and taken to another country?

If a child has been abducted from the UK, there are two International Conventions that assist a parent in tracing and returning their child. The Conventions are known as:

  • The Hague Convention
  • The European Convention

These Conventions have created a network of countries who work together with the intention in most cases to return the abducted child back to his or her place of residence.

The countries that have joined the Conventions are known as Contracting States. The UK is a Contracting State to both Conventions.

The UK is a contracting state to both the Hague Convention and the European Convention

What is the Hague Convention?

The aims of the Hague Convention are:

  • To secure the prompt return of children who have been wrongfully removed to or retained in a contracting state (i.e. to return the abducted child back to his or her place of residence.)
  • And to ensure that arrangements for children under the law of one contracting state are effectively respected in other contracting states (i.e. to ensure arrangements for the children issued in one country are implemented and respected in another.)

To rely on the Hague Convention, the child must be under 16 and have been habitually resident in one contracting state and taken to another.

How can the Hague Convention help me?

A parent can apply to the Central Authority where the child is usually resident or to the Central Authority of any other contracting state for assistance in securing the child's return. The Central Authority of the country where the child is shall take all appropriate steps to obtain the voluntary return of the child. If this is not possible, court proceedings can be bought.

If a claim of wrongful removal or retention is made within the first 12 months, the contracting state where the child is will usually return the child to his or her original country so that the court in that country can decide what should happen in the child's future. After the 12 month period, it is more difficult for the child to be returned as the child may be settled in his or her new environment.

Will my child meet the requirements of the Hague Convention?

A parent will find it very difficult to rely on the Hague Convention if:

  • The child is not habitually resident in a state which is party to the Convention.
  • The child is considered habitually resident in the state where the child has been taken.
  • The parties were in agreement with the move.
  • The child does not want to return to his or her resident country and he or she has attained the age and degree of maturity appropriate to have his or her decisions taken into account (usually the age of 7 or above)
  • There is no custody right being breached.
  • The other parent was not actually exercising his or her custodial rights.
  • The child is now settled in his or her environment.

A defence is available to wrongful retention under Article 13(b) of the Hague Convention if it can be established that the child would be exposed to physical or psychological harm, or otherwise placed in an intolerable situation, if the child was made to return to the resident country.

The case of Re E (Children) (FC) [2011] clarified the scope of Article 13(b) in determining that:

  • The risk to the child must be "grave". The issue of gravity characterises the risk to the child, not the harm.
  • The court made clear that exposure of a child to hearing or seeing their parent being abused can satisfy the criteria under article 13(b);
  • The court is not restricted to simply look at the immediate future of the child, but can take a longer-term interpretation.

What is the European Convention?

Like the Hague Convention, the European Convention binds all the contracting states into working together to return the abducted child back to his or her place of residence. However the European Convention differs from the Hague Convention as it looks at Child Arrangements Orders, previously known as Residence and Contact Orders (before 22.04.14) rather than residence and contact rights.

The European Convention can be used to enforce Child Arrangements Orders, previously known as residence and contact orders (before 22.04.14) however, this Convention has been largely superseded by the Hague Convention.

If a child has been taken to a country that is not a joined state to either convention, it is more difficult to have the child returned.

What if my child is abducted to a country which is not party to either Convention?

When a child is abducted to a Non Convention country, there is not a network of authorities working together to ensure the return of the child. A parent who wants their child returned to the UK will either have to come to an arrangement with the other parent, or start legal proceedings in the country where the child has been abducted to.

However, there are still things that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can do to help. The Child Abduction Unit can give advice and provide practical help when dealing with authorities overseas.

Can I get legal aid for abduction?

Legal aid may be available for parents and persons with parental responsibility for children who are at risk of abduction or have been abducted.

You may be able to get Legal Aid to:

  • secure the return of a child who has been unlawfully removed within the United Kingdom
  • prevent their unlawful removal from the UK
  • secure the return of a child who has been unlawfully removed from the UK

Where a child has been abducted from a country party to the Hague Convention and brought to the UK, legal aid may be available for the person from whom the child has been abducted. This will be as of right without a means or merits test.

For more information on legal aid see our information pages on legal aid for family law matters.

Terminology

Habitual residence

There is no legal definition of habitual residence; it is a question of fact where a person can be considered to be living their life.

Wrongfully removed or retained

There must either be:

  • Wrongful removal, which occurs when a child has been taken from his or her place of habitual residence without the appropriate consent, or
  • Wrongful retention, when the child is not returned.

Child Arrangements Orders

There must be a breach of arrangements made with respect to the child otherwise the removal or retention of the child is not illegal for the purposes of the Convention. Where the parent has regular contact and exercises his or her parental nature with the child, this can amount to custody within the Hague Convention even though there is no order from the court to prove this. Because of this, some unmarried fathers without parental responsibility will be able to claim custody rights under the Hague Convention.

If a child has been abducted it is important to start proceedings as soon as possible otherwise the child may settle in his or her new environment.

Once a child is settled it is harder to remove the child as it may be in his or her best interest to remain.

Temporary Removal from the UK for a period of less than 28 days (for a parent with PR) - Flowchart

flowchart

open


  • Legal process of taking the child out of the UK for a period of less than 28 days.
  • Do you have a Special Guardianship Order for the child?
    or
    Do you have a Residence Order (granted before 22/4/2014)?
    or
    Are you named as the person the child lives with under the Child Arrangements Order?
    • NO
  • Do you have the written consent of all other person(s) with Parental Responsibility?
    • YES
    • You may leave with the child but may wish to check with the travel operator what form of consent is required
    • NO
    • You would need to apply for a Specific Issue Order.
      (You may need to attempt mediation with all parties with Parental Responsibility first)

close


Temporary Removal from the UK for a period of more than 28 days (for a parent with PR) - Flowchart

flowchart

open


  • Legal process of taking the child out of the UK for a period of more than 28 days.
  • Do you have a Special Guardianship Order for the child?
    • YES
    • Do you wish to take the child away for a period of less than 3 months?
      • YES
      • NO
    • You do not need the consent of the other person(s) with Parental Responsibility
    • You would need to apply for a Specific Issue Order
      (You may need to attempt mediation with all parties with Parental Responsibility first)
    • You may leave with the child but may wish to check with the travel operator what form of consent is required

close


Permanent removal from the UK (for a parent with PR) - Flowchart

flowchart

 

open


  • Legal process of taking the child out of the UK permanently to live abroad.
  • Do you have the written consent of all other person(s) with Parental Responsibility?
    • YES
    • You may move abroad permanently with the child but may wish to check with the travel operator what form of consent is required.
    • NO
    • You will need to apply for a Removal from Jurisdiction Order.
      (You may need to attempt mediation with all parties with Parental Responsibility first)

close


Useful contacts:

International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU)

Office of the Official Solicitor
Victory House 30—34 Kingsway
London WC2B 6EX

Telephone: 0203 681 2608

 

Reunite International Child Abduction Centre

PO Box 7124
Leicester LE1 7XX

Advice Line: 0166 2556 234

Telephone: 0116 2555 345

Email: reunite@dircon.co.uk

 

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH

Telephone: 020 7270 1500

Email: consular.fco@gtnet.gov.uk