Child Abduction and the Law

Child Abduction and the Law

When a relationship breaks down and two parents separate, it is important to ensure that arrangements pertaining to the child’s place of residence, time spent abroad and who gets parental responsibility are agreed as soon as possible to avoid problems later on down the line.

In this article, we will be providing advice to parents on the topic of child abduction including what counts as abduction, the unlawful removal of a child from the UK, consent for holidays abroad and moving house.

What counts as child abduction?

If a court order has been made that determines that a child lives with one parent and spends time with another, taking a child out of the country for more than 4 weeks at a time (without the permission of both parents) can be regarded as child abduction from a legal perspective.

Child abduction can be committed by parents, other family members or non-relatives including neighbours, friends and acquaintances.

Can I stop my ex from taking my child on holiday?

There may be many reasons why you would object to your ex-partner taking your child on holiday, you would need to refer to any existing court order to determine if you are legally able to stop them from doing so.

You may be able to stop your ex taking your child on holiday if the holiday contact agreed in the child arrangement order doesn’t cover travel abroad.

However, if you do not have a child arrangement order or it does not detail holidays or foreign travel, you may need the help of the court to put in place rules that clearly state that your ex will be unable to take your child overseas. It is important to note here that you must have reasonable grounds for objecting to this as merely not getting on with your ex-partner is not a valid reason for seeking legal intervention to prevent overseas travel.

Your ex-partner will also be able to apply to the court to have the child arrangement order amended to include holidays and overseas travel. If you have just cause for asserting that your child should not leave the country with your ex partner, it’s advisable to appoint a family solicitor to help you take the appropriate steps to ensure this legally can not happen.

Does a child need permission from both parents to leave the country? 

In cases where both parents have parental responsibility then yes: the consent of both parents is required by law if your child will be leaving the country for a holiday or to visit relatives abroad.

However, there are two circumstances where the consent of both parents is not required:

  • There is a child arrangement order in place specifying that the child should live with one parent. In this instance, the parent living with the child can take the child abroad for a maximum of 28 days without the permission of the other parent unless there is a court order to the contrary
  • There is an order from the court granting permission for the child to be taken abroad

If the circumstances above do not apply and one parent decides to take the child out of the country without the explicit consent of the other, it can be considered child abduction.

Can a father take a child abroad without the mother’s consent?

Again, this very much depends on any child arrangement order that is in place and the wording surrounding holidays and overseas travel.

In England and Wales, the mother has an automatic right of parental responsibility. Fathers can obtain parental responsibility in the following ways:

  • By being married to the child’s mother
  • By being named on the child’s birth certificate
  • By entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother
  • By obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the Court

If the father does not have parental responsibility for the child and the mother does not consent, any trip abroad with the child would be considered as child abduction in the eyes of the law.

Should a father wish to take a child abroad without the consent of the mother, help from the courts must be sought.

However, if the father has a child arrangement order that stipulates that the child lives with them, the father can take the child overseas for no more than 28 days without the consent of the mother.

In such cases, the responsible thing to do is to try and reach an agreement with the mother to reduce stress and anxiety for all parties.

Can I move away without my child’s father’s consent?

If you intend to move outside of the UK, and the child’s father does not consent, they can apply to the court for an emergency Prohibited Steps Order that could stop or significantly delay the process.

In circumstances where you wish to move from one UK address to another, you can move away without the consent of the father, but it is worth mentioning that should the father take exception to the move (for example if you are moving far enough away that it will be difficult for them to have contact with the child) they are within their rights to apply for a Prohibited Steps Order.

It will be up to the court to decide if contact can be maintained through negotiation or changes to any current child arrangement orders. In these circumstances, it is advisable to seek legal representation from a family law solicitor – in addition to explaining the legal framework, your solicitor can offer mediation and facilitate meaningful negotiation to avoid unnecessary conflict.

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Shaoli has been a solicitor at NLS for over two years, transitioning from a background in criminal law to full-time family law. Her experience as a Criminal Duty Solicitor has equipped her with unique skills that are invaluable in her current role.
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