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A Guide for Parents - International Parental Child Abduction

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After two years of the pandemic, international travel is now once again becoming the norm and families and friends are being reunited across countries. Yet with the opening of borders, family law is seeing a surge in child abduction matters both on an international and domestic scale.

What is International Parental Child Abduction:

International parental child abductions are often defined as when a child is removed from their home or residential country to a foreign country by one parent without the other parent’s consent or knowledge. The majority of parental child abduction matters are overwhelmingly perpetrated by the child’s non-custodial parent and conservative research places the number of children abducted in or out of Australia at over 250 children per year.

If you believe that there is a risk of a child being abducted by the other parent or other carer or family member, you need to move quickly and seek urgent legal advice. If you are concerned about the safety or welfare of a child contact the Police. 

BEFORE: How do I prevent my child being taken internationally without my consent:

In Australia, parental child abduction is not a criminal offence in and of itself, unless there is a Court Order in place. As such, if you believe that the child is at risk of being abducted, it is imperative that you seek urgent preventative Orders from the Court.  

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia have the power, pursuant to s 65D of the Family Law Act 1975(Cth.) to make parenting Orders, including, but not limited to, Orders about where the child will live and with whom, how the child will communicate with the other party and, if necessary, to list the child’s name on the Family Law Airport Watchlist.

If an Application has been made to the Court for parenting Watchlist Orders, or if there are Orders in place for the child to remain in Australia, it is an offence for a person to otherwise take the child or send the child outside of the country, punishable by up to three (3) years imprisonment.

Family Law Airport Watchlist

Once an Application is made for a Parenting Airport Watchlist Order in the Family Law Courts, the child is then able to be placed on the Family Law Airport Watchlist, which is overseen by the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Once the child is on the Watchlist, the AFP are notified when the child is being taken out of Australia and they are able to prevent the unlawful removal of a child from the country. To learn more about the AFP’s role in family law, click here.

AFTER: How do I recover my child from another country:  

Once the child has been abducted and taken to a different country, the legal landscape for facilitating that child’s return becomes far more complicated. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is the main multilateral international governing body that regulates matters of child abduction and parental child abduction and only provides a process for recovery in countries that are signatories to the Convention. If a country is not a signatory to the Convention and there is no separate treaty or agreement between that country and Australia, then that process for the recovery of the child would be bound by the laws of that foreign country. You can find the list of signatory countries to the Convention here. The Australian Central Authority deals with matters regarding the Convention.

If you believe that your child has been abducted, you will need to seek a Recovery Order from the Family Law Courts pursuant to s 67U of the Family Law Act 1975. Recovery Orders are defined by s 67Q of the Act and can be made by the Court to require the return of or authorise enforcement officers to recover the child by means that the Court sees fit. To learn more about Recovery Orders, please click here.

There are strict timeframes in place regarding Recovery Orders and abductions, and you should seek legal advice as soon as possible when an abduction has taken place.

Every matter regarding abduction and family law is unique and requires a holistic and tailor-made response on the individual circumstances. The above is not to be construed as legal advice.Szabo & Associates Solicitors are a leading family law firm in Sydney providing comprehensive legal advice on all aspects of family law, including abduction and recovery matters. If you require assistance in relation to any matter raised in this overview, please contact us on 02 9281 5088 or fill in the online contact form.

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