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What to do when a parent abducts a child and how to prevent it

View profile for Tim Galbraith
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What to do when a parent abducts a child and how to prevent it

A mother of three children, two of them born in Britain, has pleaded guilty to abduction following removing the children from the UK and relocating to Alaska without the knowledge or consent of their father.

The background

A man and woman met in 2009 and had two daughters, however their relationship broke down in 2012 and the woman met an American man who worked in Alaska, whom she subsequently married and had a third child with.

The mother made an application to the family court for permission to remove the two daughters from the UK and live permanently in Alaska with her husband. The father contested the application, and in May 2015, a Judge refused the mother permission to do so. It is understood that the court directed that each parent must hold one of the girls’ passports.

In October 2015, the mother ignored the court order and travelled to Alaska with the children, without the permission of the father, or indeed the permission of the court. The father said that he had no knowledge that this was happening, and it is further alleged that the mother committed fraud in obtaining a second passport for the youngest daughter, whose passport was kept by the father. The father notified the police and steps were taken for the extradition of the mother to England to face criminal charges under the Child Abduction Act 1984 and also criminal proceedings in relation to the alleged passport fraud.

In January 2018, the mother surrendered to the American authorities. She was then extradited to England in April 2018 and faced a criminal trial in the Crown Court. The family court case concluded in July 2018 where the Judge said that, as the children have been now living with their stepfather in Alaska for almost three years and how settled the children are, that the children proceedings with the family courts in England should end. The father, should he wish, is able to make an application to the Courts of Alaska.

The mother has now pleaded guilty in the criminal case.

How Stephensons can help

If you are a parent of a child and think that there is a risk that another person will remove them out of the jurisdiction of England and Wales, you should seek legal advice urgently as there are steps that you can take to seek to prevent this, including applying for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent the child being removed from the country.

If you are a parent of a child that has already been removed from the country without your agreement then it is important that you act quickly as delay in doing so may reduce the chances of securing the child’s return.

Stephensons can advise on the options open to you in such circumstances which may include the need to make an application under the Hague Convention in the country in which the child has been taken. If you need advice, please call us on  01616 966 229.

By Tim Galbraith and Megan Ryan-Loughran in the family law department