By Conal McGarrity
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Child Abduction and the Importance of The Hague Convention

The term child abduction often gives rise to notions of a ‘stranger danger’ and kidnapping. In reality the most common examples of child abduction occur when parents have separated, and a child has been taken out of the country by one parent without the consent of another or without the permission of the court. The issue of child abduction is very serious and is governed on an international level by the ‘1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abductions’.

The general effect of the Hague Convention is to ensure that an abducted child is returned to their country of habitual residence so that family law issues including custody and contact can be adjudicated by the Courts in that Country. Most countries have signed up to the Hague Convention, including all of the UK and Ireland. The law in Northern Ireland in relation to child abduction is mostly governed by the Civil law and puts significant emphasis on parental responsibility and the best interests of the child in cases of this nature. Similarly, the law in the Republic of Ireland is strongly influenced by the Hague Convention.

Child abduction cases often arise when parents originally from different countries separate. One parent may subsequently take a child out of their country of habitual residence without the consent of another parent or permission from the Court. The other parent, in these circumstances, can issue Hague Convention Proceedings and ask the Court to make an Order to have a child returned to their country of habitual residence. This is particularly evident in the unique dynamic between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In terms of what constitutes child abduction for the purposes of the Hague Convention a child must be habitually resident in the country from which they are taken, and the removal of the child must be in breach of the Custody Order of any parent. Of course, the Hague Convention does not apply only to parents, but also to anyone who has a Residence or Care Order for a child.

The Hague Convention can also assist anyone who is seeking contact or access to a child living overseas. To resolve child abduction issues, it is important that you seek legal advice immediately so that Prohibitive or Preventative measures can be put in place. At P.A. Duffy and Company our experienced family law team can advise you on the best course of action. This may include applying to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order which would prevent your former partner from taking the child out of the country. If they have already left, we can petition the Court on your behalf to have the child returned to your care, this is where the Hague Convention will help your case. If you have brought a child to the UK or Ireland and are unsure of your position our expert solicitors can advise you on your rights as a parent or guardian.

Circumstances where a child may not be returned to their country of habitual residence may include where they may be exposed to risks if they return such as physical or mental harm or if the child has attained an age of maturity and do not wish to return to their country of origin. At P.A.Duffy and Company, we have registered offices in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This leaves us uniquely placed to advise on child abduction cases which occur in these jurisdictions and further afield.

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