If someone is threatening to take your children away from you or has already taken your child/children away, call the police immediately. Child abduction is a criminal offence and will be taken seriously. There are a number of legal mechanisms that can be used to get your children back to you including to the UK, if they have been taken abroad.
However, if you believe your child has been taken out of the UK, you can contact SBS or the Law Society or Reunite for details of lawyers who can give specialist advice on international child abduction.
The following information may help the police to find your child and you should obtain it as quickly as you can:
- If your child’s passport has gone – a copy of the passport or passport details including passport no, date and place of issue, date of birth of child.
- Name, address and contact details of the person you think has taken your child.
- Possible addresses and contact details of where your child may be taken abroad (e.g. if you or the person who has taken your child have friends or family abroad)
- A recent photograph of your child and of the person you think has taken your child.
Disputes about who your child should live with and have contact with
If your partner or family members are threatening to get a court order that the children should live with them rather than you, this is a matter for the family courts.
If you child has been taken away from you and you are the main carer, a court can order a range of people including the person who has taken the child and relatives to disclose where the child is, and order the person who has taken a child to return him or her to the main carer. The court can also make an order preventing a specified person(s) from taking a child away from his/her main carer again. (Prohibited Steps Order).
If either of the parents make an application to the court about who the child should live with (Residence Order) or have contact with (Contact Order), the courts can make interim orders about who the child lives with and has contact with whilst the legal proceedings are continuing, or final orders, if the parents reach an agreement or a decision is made at a final hearing.
Residence, contact and domestic violence
Domestic violence is an important issue that the courts have to take into account when deciding who a child should live with and who the child should have contact with. If there are any disputes or legal proceedings about your child you must make sure that your solicitor and the court know if there is a history of physical, emotional, financial or sexual abuse against you or your child.
You may feel that you do not want your abusive partner or ex-partner to have contact with your child because this may place you or your child at risk of more harm. You can stop contact but your partner/ex-partner may apply to court for contact. Even if the court does make an order for contact there are ways of reducing the risk to you and to your children when and if contact takes place.
One option is for contact to take place at a contact centre. There is a network of contact centres across the UK, most of which are run by volunteers. They usually provide weekly sessions of 1 to 2 hours at weekends where your partner/ex-partner can spend time with your child in a supervised or partially supervised setting. Your child cannot be taken out of the centre without your consent. You do not have to have any contact with your partner/ex-partner as you can hand over and collect your child from the contact centre staff. This may be a useful option where you are afraid that your partner/ex-partner may take your child away from you or there is a risk of abuse against you or your child.
However, there is usually a waiting list of a few weeks before a slot becomes available. Your solicitor can give you more information about contact centres and make a referral to a contact centre on your behalf.
If someone hurts or threatens to hurt your child
If someone has hurt your child or is threatening to hurt him/her you should either call the police or your emergency Social Services Duty Team or speak to a relevant advice centre like SBS.
If the person who is abusing your child or is threatening to abuse your child has a contact order you must decide whether it is safe for contact to continue. If there are ongoing legal proceedings to do with your child make sure your solicitor or the court and any other people involved know what is happening and why you want to stop contact.
Links for further information
- Women’s Aid Website, The Survivor’s Handbook – Making arrangements for children after separation: the role of the family courts
- Rights of Women have fact sheets on residence, contact and parental responsibility that can be downloaded for free from their website. Women lawyers provide advice on 020 7251 6577 (telephone) or 020 7490 2562 (textphone) on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 2-4pm and 7-9pm and Fridays, 12noon-2pm.
- Reunite runs a 24 hour emergency service for international child abduction cases. Their advice line on 0116 2556 234 is open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.00pm or for information see their website. The Reunite Child Abduction Prevention Guide provides clear and concise information and practical steps to take if you fear your child is in danger of abduction.