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Being separated from their children is one of a parent’s greatest fears. High-profile cases generate considerable media coverage that show the emotional turmoil that it can leave people in. But abduction isn’t limited to the actions of strangers – in some cases, the actions of family members or marital breakdown can lead to such cases. But what do you do if your child has gone on holiday with someone other than you and not been returned or is there a risk of your child being taken abroad by someone other than you without your consent?

Under the Child Abduction (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, it is a criminal offence for any person connected with a child to take or send that child overseas without the consent of any other person who has parental responsibility for the child. When a child has been abducted, Hague Convention proceedings make it possible for a child to be returned. The 1996 Hague Convention applies to all children from birth until they are aged 18 and is intended to improve the protection of children in international situations. It came into operation in the United Kingdom on the 1st November 2012.

Removal is unlawful if all those with parental responsibility for a child have not given their consent and if the child has been removed for more than 28 days. It’s also unlawful if a child has been removed from his/her usual country of residence or is wrongfully retained in a country which is not their usual country of residence.

If a person has a residence order for a child – a court order which specifies the living arrangements for a child – they will not be acting unlawfully if the child is taken overseas for less than 4 weeks without the appropriate consent.

If you are a parent with parental responsibility and you believe there is a risk of your son or daughter being taken abroad without your consent, then a solicitor can act quickly to obtain emergency court orders to prevent removal. A solicitor can liaise with the police and other authorities to obtain Port Alerts to prevent your child being taken out of the country as well as circulating a picture and details of your child to the relevant authorities such as the Passport Agency.

If your child has already been taken out of Northern Ireland to a country which subscribes to The Hague Convention or the European Convention, legal representatives can take immediate steps to try and ensure the safe return of a child as quickly as possible. This would involve making an application to the country your son or daughter has been taken to for your child to be returned. Generally speaking, these conventions recognise that a child’s best interests are served by remaining in the country where they have grown up.

 If a child has been abducted to a country where no agreement is in place and the country does not subscribe to The Hague convention we can liaise with child abduction lawyers in that jurisdiction. However, the procedure may be different, legal issues can be more complex and timescales are often slower. However countries such as Egypt and Pakistan have protocols in place setting out considerations which will apply and provisions for cooperation between countries.

Alternatively if you wish to locate permanently abroad with a child or wish to oppose an ex-partner or someone else from doing so a solicitor can advise and represent you through the process. At Edwards & Co., our family law team has dealt with a number of these very serious and distressing cases – if you’re affected by these issues, get in touch to see how we can help.

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