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Devon child abduction: what to do if your child is abducted

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James Harbottle
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Devon child abduction: what to do if your child is abducted

Children cases taking longer than at any time since current records began

Over Christmas and New Year a story played out in the local and National media that is every parent’s worst nightmare.

On the 20th of December a 12 year-old girl disappeared from the Newton Abbot area, prompting a nationwide police search for her. Thankfully, she was found in Lincolnshire on the 30th of December. A man was subsequently charged with an offence in connection with the child’s abduction, and appeared before Exeter Magistrates’ Court on New Year’s Day.

We will make no further comment about this particular case, but sadly child abduction can be a feature of parental separation. When parents separate one of them, perhaps dissatisfied with the child’s living arrangements, may be prepared to take the law into their own hands, by removing the child from his or her present home.

So what can you do if your child is abducted? The answer depends upon where the child has been taken.

(Note that what follows relates to family law remedies for child abduction – child abduction may also be a criminal offence.)


Abduction within the UK

devon newton abbot Devon child abduction

If you have a child arrangements order stating that the child should live with you then you can apply to the court to enforce the order. And if the other parent refuses to comply with an order that the child be returned to you, then the court may make an order authorising the police to take charge of the child (if necessary, entering and searching premises where they have reason to believe the child may be found), and return the child to you.

The above applies where the child is still in England or Wales. If the child is in Scotland or Northern Ireland then you will first need to register the child arrangements order there, so that the courts in that country can enforce it.

If you do not have a child arrangements order then you can apply for one, as a matter of urgency.

You could also apply to the court for a specific issues order, requiring the child to be returned to you.

And if you do not know the child’s whereabouts you can ask the court to order any person who you have reason to believe may have relevant information to disclose it to the court.


International abductionconfidentiality in mediation

If your child has been abducted abroad then what you can do to seek their return depends upon whether the child has been taken to a country that is a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on Child Abduction. Most countries are members of the Convention, including the UK – an expert family lawyer will be able to advise you if a particular country is a member.

The Convention essentially requires that any child under 16 who is wrongfully removed from a member country where they are habitually resident should be returned to that country.

Every Convention country has a designated Central Authority to discharge the duties which are imposed by the Convention. If you believe that your child has been abducted to another member country then you may apply to the UK Central Authority or the Central Authority of the other country for assistance in securing the return of the child. The Central Authority of the country where the child is must then take all appropriate measures in order to obtain the voluntary return of the child. If this is not possible, court proceedings can be issued.

If the proceedings are issued within 12 months of the abduction, the court of the country where the child is will, if it finds that the child was wrongfully removed, usually order the return of the child to the UK, unless the child is older and does not want to return, or the court finds that ordering a return may expose the child to a grave risk of harm.

If your child has been taken to a country that is not a member of the Hague Convention then you can still apply to a court in this country for an order that the child be returned. However, this procedure is more difficult than under the Convention, and the other country may not be prepared to enforce the order.


Getting help

Whatever the circumstances, if your child has been abducted it is imperative that you obtain expert legal advice as soon as possible. The above is just a very brief summary of the law. We can provide you with the advice you need. To find out more, and to get started with one of our specialist lawyers, click here.

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