Family separation can be very difficult for all parties, but when these disputes cross international borders unique issues arise. For example one parent may decide to move overseas and take their child with them without the other parent’s permission. These occurrences are commonly known as international parental child abduction. In the 2015-2016 Financial Year, Australia was involved in more than 200 cases of international child abduction. For the parent left behind, it can be difficult to know how to get access to their child and to see them returned to their home country.
What is the Hague Convention?
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is the primary instrument that deals with international parental child abductions. It is a multilateral treaty made up of 81 countries, including Australia, that outlines the process of seeking the return of abducted children. The Convention is designed to reduce the harm exposed to children in abduction situations by providing lawful means for their safe and quick return to their country of habitual residence.
Which countries are covered by the Hague Convention?
A parent can only make an application for the return of a child under the Hague Convention to and from a country that is party to the Convention. Applications can be made in relation to any of these countries.
The Hague Convention Process from Australia
Parents who believe their child has been wrongfully abducted from Australia to a Hague Convention country overseas must apply for the return of the child in line with the specific requirements and documents for the Application Process. Following that is a process involving the Australian Central Authority, which is a division of the Attorney-General’s Department, and Overseas Central Authority.
The flowchart below outlines the general process that follows once a Hague Convention application has been made in Australia:
How long does the process take?
Unfortunately there is no way of knowing how long it will take for an abducted child to be returned.
One of our best Just Redemptive Outcomes® in a Hague Convention matter saw the child returned to Australia within 2 months from us receiving instructions. However, time frames will vary from case to case. Factors which will contribute to the time frame include whether the application is challenged, whether the application goes to court and whether an appeal is lodged.
What should I do?
The Hague Convention process is technical and requires consideration of local and international family law.
There are a lot of complex and important procedural steps involved prior to even making a Hague Convention Application (such as steps to clearly show that no consent is given to the abduction), and risks to avoid (such as unknowingly admitting that an overseas jurisdiction is the appropriate forum to hear the Family Law dispute).
Therefore if you find yourself involved in a situation involving international parental child abduction below we strongly advice that you first seek independent legal advice.
My child is at risk of being abducted from Australia
If you know that your child is at risk of being abducted from Australia, it is important to see a lawyer urgently. Steps can be taken in Australia to urgently apply to the Court and have the child’s name placed on the Family Law Watchlist which prevents parents of children who are involved in Family Law proceedings from leaving Australia without the consent of the Court.
There are also additional steps that can with contacting embassies or government departments to ensure a foreign passport is not issued. A lawyer will be able to assist you with this.
My child has been abducted to a non-Hague country
You should seek legal advice if your child has been abducted to a country not described above. Your lawyer will be able to assist you in contacting appropriate local and overseas government department to assist in negotiations with the non-Hague country.
I am considering relocating overseas with my child
You should think twice before moving a child overseas without the other parent’s consent. This could find you embroiled in lengthy Court proceedings. To avoid this you should seek the other parent’s consent in writing or apply to the Australian Family Court for a relocation order. Your lawyer will be able to assist you with this.