Can a parent abduct their own child in the UK?
Child Abduction  |  Child law  |  Family law

Can a parent abduct their own child in the UK?

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When child abduction is discussed most people will envisage a parent taking their child to some foreign country, beyond the borders of the United Kingdom.

But what if the parent moves the child from one country in the UK to another country in the UK? Is that child abduction? After all, the countries within the UK do not all share the same legal system.

Can a parent abduct their own child in the UK? To answer the question we need to look at exactly what child abduction means

What is child abduction?

Child abduction is actually a criminal, rather than civil, matter (although as we will see in a moment there are also civil (i.e. family law) issues to take into consideration when moving a child to another country).

The criminal offence of child abduction is set out in the Child Abduction Act 1984, which states that a person commits the offence if they send or take a child under the age of 16 outside of the UK without the appropriate consent.

So, can a parent abduct their own child in the UK? There is the answer to the question: child abduction offense occurs only when the child is sent or taken out of the UK. It is not a criminal offence to take or send a child from England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland to another one of those countries.

For the sake of completeness, we should explain what is meant by “the appropriate consent”.

What the ‘appropriate consent’ is will depend upon the circumstances, but will normally mean that a father will need to obtain the consent of the mother and a mother will require the consent of the father, if he has parental responsibility for the child. However, if either parent has a child arrangements order stating that the child should live with them then they can take the child outside of the UK for up to 28 days without the other parent’s consent.

Does that mean I am free to move my child to another country in the UK?

Not necessarily.

Just because it is not a criminal offence to move a child from one country in the UK to another country in the UK it is still recommended that the parent first obtain the consent of the other parent, if the child is to be moved to a country with a different legal system, for example from England to Scotland (England and Wales share the same legal system but Scotland’s system is completely different). If you do not obtain consent and the matter subsequently goes before the court, then the court is likely to take a dim view of you moving the child without consent.

And if you do not obtain the other parent’s consent and they object to the child being moved they can apply to the court for an order requiring the child’s return, and that order can be registered in the courts of the country to which the child has been taken, so that those courts can enforce the return order.

Similarly, if there are any existing court orders in respect of a child under 16, they will be recognised and enforced in all courts inside the UK, provided the order has been registered in the court of that country.

In view of these things if you wish to move your child to another country in the UK and the other parent does not consent to the move then the best course of action is to apply to the court for permission to make the move.

If you are considering moving with your child to another country within the UK then you should first seek expert legal advice. For more information regarding moving a child within the UK, and how we can help, see this page.

How can we help?

For further information on how we can help, please see our Child Abduction page.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information.