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International Relationships and the Pain of Parental Child Abduction

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As Family lawyers know only too well, it is not always easy for couples to remain calm and composed when they split up.

Thankfully, only a relatively small proportion of the relationships which we have any dealings with feature any rancour.

Those which do can be difficult for all concerned if they involve children, especially so if the respective partners hail from different countries or cultural backgrounds.

They may want to take themselves and their children home to family and familiar surroundings overseas rather than remain in a territory which might have few if any comforts now that their relationship - be it marriage or cohabitation - has come to an end.

Exactly how frequent such circumstances have become has been made plain by the latest set of figures from the Foreign Office which show that cases of parental child abduction have risen by 88 per cent in a little under a decade.

The staggering nature of the increase has been compounded by the results of an accompanying survey which showed that nearly a quarter of Britons are unaware that taking a child overseas without permission is a crime.

The research goes on to highlight that half those questioned believed government can intervene to ensure the swift return of children abducted from the UK.

The truth is often rather more traumatic and long drawn-out.

Together with my colleagues at Pannone, I have dealt with too many cases to recall in which children have been taken beyond the reach of the Hague Convention.

The Convention was introduced in 1980 and allows for children taken to signatory states to be returned to their country of residence while any disputes about their welfare are resolved.

When children are removed to those countries which haven't signed up to the Hague Convention, parents can face sometimes fruitless, lengthy and expensive procedures to bring about the return of children who have been taken from them.

Given that, it may alarm some people to read that Reunite International, a British-based charity specialising in parental child abduction cases, estimated that such non-Hague cases had risen by 206 per cent in the decade to 2011.

I believe that one of the reasons for making the statistics public now is that there appears to be more cases of abduction during various holiday periods throughout the year.

By releasing the information only two weeks before Christmas Day, the Foreign Office is reinforcing a pledge made last year to make people more aware of the issue and, more importantly, the truly devastating consequences for the children concerned.

It is my understanding that departmental officials have also met with parents whose former partners have abducted their children in an effort to put in place measures to help tackle the problem.

One idea might be to warn parents either at the start of a divorce or - more specifically -
at the commencement of proceedings regarding the welfare of the children that they cannot take them abroad without explicit legal permission.

Early, clear intervention of that nature might not prevent all abductions because, unfortunately, parents who are intent on abduction will do all they can to carry it out, regardless of the protocols in place to stop them.

However, it might prevent a proportion of abductions taking place and remove the
the sort of stress, time and cost involved once they happen.