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Child Abduction: Separated parents and their responsibilities for their children

in Family Law by Slater and Gordon on
Child Abduction: Separated parents and their responsibilities for their children

Heart-wrenching scenes have played-out in the media recently with four young girls embroiled in an international tug-of-war between their Italian father and Australian mother.

This bitter two-year international custody battle started when the girls’ mother brought them to Australia from their home in Italy on what the father believed was a four-week holiday. It ended last week with their forceful return to Italy by the Australian Federal Police.

In fact, it’s estimated that three children each week are abducted by a parent into or out of Australia. Around 55 to 60 per cent of these children are returned to their rightful home.

Australia is a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the Abduction Convention) along with most of Europe and the United States.

Some of our nearest neighbours – Malaysia, Indonesia and most Asian countries for example – are not parties to the Abduction Convention and recovery of children may not be possible.

What is the Abduction Convention?

  • The Abduction Convention is an international treaty under which arrangements are made for the return of children who have been wrongfully removed from, or retained outside, their country of habitual residence.
  • In Australia, the International Family Law Section of the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department is the Central Authority for Australia (CCA) which handles applications in relation to children removed or brought into Australia unlawfully.
  • The CCA, makes a decision whether or not to accept all applications to/from Australia for the return of abducted children and ensures that they meet the requirements of the Abduction Convention.
  • The Abduction Convention is concerned with forum (appropriate jurisdiction to hear custody disputes) not custody or residence issue.

What can I do to prevent my child from being taken out of Australia without my consent?

  • Obtain a court order prohibiting the removal of the child from Australia
  • Place the child’s name on the Airport Watch List.
  • Do not consent to your child getting an Australian passport and/or place a Child Alert on the passport system.
  • If applicable, prevent the issuing of a foreign passport for the child by contacting the relevant consular office in your State.

What should I consider if I want to take my child to another country?

  • Obtain a court order allowing you to take the child overseas.  If both parents agree to the child travelling outside Australia, the parents can enter into consent orders.  If the other parent does not agree to you taking the child overseas you will need to make an application to the Family Court.
  • It is an offence to take, or try to take, your child out of Australia knowing that a current parenting order gives day-to-day care to some other person, or as a way of preventing a parenting order being complied with.
  • If convicted of these offences you may be jailed, fined or the court may vary the parenting order. If you have existing parenting orders preventing the removal of the child from Australia you should apply to vary the orders before travelling overseas with your child.

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