Child abduction happens “when a parent or a relative or someone acting on their behalf removes, retains, or conceals a child, under the age of 16, in breach of the other parent’s residence rights whether joint or sole”.
In the UK, it is a criminal offence for anyone 'connected with a child' under 16 to take or send that child out of the UK without 'appropriate consent' of any other person who has ‘parental responsibility’ for the child.
A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth. However, the conditions for fathers vary.
- If the parents were married to each other at the time of the birth of the child, then each parent will have parental responsibility for the child. If they divorce, their respective parental responsibilities cannot be lost, short of adoption of the child.
- If the parents were not married to each other at the time of birth of the child, the father can acquire parental responsibility through an agreement with the mother; or a parental responsibility order, made by the court; or by registering the child’s birth jointly with the mother. He can also acquire it through a residence order, but this right will only last for the duration of the order.
- A woman who is the mother’s same-sex partner can now have parental responsibility in the same manner as a legal father.
A residence order is an order stating where a child should live. In cases where parents separate and there is a dispute about where their children should live, the court will decides this according to what it deems to be the ‘child’s welfare’. If the court makes a residence order in favour of a person or persons, they automatically have parental responsibility while that residence order is in force. They can also take the child outside England and Wales for up to a month at a time without needing the permission of any other persons who has parental responsibility or the court.
If your child is abducted or simply not returned from contact within the UK, you can contact the Police. They will want to know if you have a Residence Order and will find the child primarily to make sure they are ok and safe. They will talk to the parent holding the child to see if they have any right but also to talk to them about an amicable resolution. If a child is distressed, they have the power to return the child to the other parent.
If your child is abducted to, or illegally retained in, another country, the chances of recovering your child will depend on the customs and laws of that country as well as your relationship with the person who has taken the child. If your child has been abducted to a country which is a member of the Hague Convention, your Central Authority will help you put an application for the return of your child. If your child has been taken to a country that has not signed the Hague Convention, you may need to apply for permission to bring your child back to the UK through the courts of that country.
For further information visit the Parents and Abducted Children Together Website
For FAQs on child abduction visit Reunite Website