Child abduction after divorce and relationship breakdown

19th January 2015 by

Child abduction during divorce proceedings or after relationship breakdown, thankfully, may not be the norm for many separating couples, but when an estranged spouse or partner moves away or prepares to leave the country it can be a worrying time for some parents if arrangements for children have been disputed.

Child abduction cases in divorce are often not well publicised as they are dealt with in closed family law courts where reporting restrictions are made to prevent journalists from releasing details which may affect the welfare of an at-risk child.

However, figures released in 2009 under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that 2008 saw 470 children, in 336 separate child abduction cases, were known to have been taken illegally from the UK; a rise of 20 percent on the figure recorded in 2005.

The Family Law Act and child abduction with the UK

If a child under 16 has been granted residency with one of the separated or divorcing parents and is then taken out of the local court’s jurisdiction, but is not removed from the UK, the Family Law Act 1986 (as amended by the Children Act 1989) establishes a procedure to uphold the residency order in all other UK courts.

A ‘Part I order’ will need to be registered in the local court where the child is believed to be located and, once it has been lodged, the parent with the residency order can apply to that court for the order to be enforced under the Family Law Act.

Procedure for when a child is taken out of the UK

Under the provisions of the Child Abduction Act 1984 (CAA), it is a criminal offence for a child under the age of 16 to be removed from the UK without prior agreement with an appropriate adult. After divorce or separation, the person who has been granted the residence order for the child must give their consent before a child can be taken overseas.

Although the CAA acts as a deterrent to child abduction during divorce or after separation, it cannot prevent removal.

In the event of ‘real and imminent’ danger of a child being illegally removed a ‘port alert’ may be put in place to inform all airports and seaports of the details and circumstances of the case.

If a child has been taken to a country which has signed up to the Hague Convention, the international treaty holds that illegally abducted children should be returned swiftly to the appropriate jurisdiction.

However, the figures released in 2009 show that approximately 40% of children illegally removed from the UK are taken to countries which do not comply with the Hague Convention. These cases will have to be pursued through the Foreign Office.

Healys family law solicitors can help after child abduction

It is of the utmost importance that you receive full and expert legal advice from an experienced family law solicitor if you feel your child is at risk of being illegally removed from jurisdiction, especially if it is likely to be overseas. The sooner any preventative measures can be set up to enforce your residence order the more chance of successful prevention of abduction.

As a full service firm we have the benefit of being able to draw on the considerable skills and expertise of our colleagues in other departments on complex issues arising out of family breakdown.  This ensures that we can provide you with full and comprehensive advice from either our London or our Brighton offices.

Whatever your issue regarding child abduction on divorce or separation, you can rely on Healys to deal with this complex legal area sympathetically, efficiently and always in confidence, including, in the reverse scenario, where allegations have been made about a parent who has brought a child into the UK.

For an initial consultation on any issue resulting from divorce or separation please call Catherine Taylor on01273 669 124 or e-mail on