Sun, 03 Jul 2011
The world may be a smaller place these days but the problems that international lifestyles may bring still loom large.
Freedom of travel and employment within Europe has fuelled a growth in multi-national families, with parents from different countries making their home in a country alien to both.
British families often relocate abroad, tempted by improved work opportunities or lifestyles. Children may be brought up or born just a few miles across the Channel or far away from the place that their parents regard as home.
This may present wonderful opportunities to experience different cultures and receive international schooling when things are going well. Should the dream turn sour and relationships or marriages fail whilst living abroad, however, a normally law-abiding parent may unwittingly be cast as the villain, falling foul of Child Abduction Laws.
A natural reaction to any breakdown is to return to the comfort of family, friends and systems that are known and trusted. The Family Law team at No5 Chambers has experience of such cases where, for example, one British parent decides to return home to the United Kingdom with the children, leaving the other parent behind.
Any parent considering such a return must ensure it is legitimately and properly planned before departure, taking the best possible advice at the earliest possible stage.
We at No5 are well-versed in addressing the factors and potential complex issues which could arise. Typical factors include the length of time lived abroad, the parents’ intentions when leaving the UK or moving to a particular country, the laws of that country, the status of the relationship and so on.
Also common are the reasons for separation, whether the other parent consents to the children’s return to the UK, any existing court proceedings or orders in the other country, the impact of a return on the children, their ages and views etc.
Such points may play a role in determining whether the removal is unlawful and, if so, the chances of establishing a successful defence. It is unlikely to be as straightforward as imagined.
The Child Abduction Laws, in the main, are designed to achieve a swift return of children in cases of unlawful removal and to enable properly considered welfare decisions to be taken in the country from which they were removed upon their return.
The Courts of England and Wales take their responsibilities in this vein seriously, whether under European Council Regulations, The Hague Convention or non-treaty applications for return.
Not taking the right steps or the right advice at the right time may not only result in the children being subjected to more distressing and confusing change, they may also be compelled to leave the United Kingdom and the removing parent plunged into legal proceedings abroad.
In addition to civil proceedings to determine where and with whom the children should live, in some cases criminal proceedings may also be pursued with the potential use of international arrest warrants, extradition and criminal penalties. I would urge any parent to seek sound advice as a passport to legal return to the UK.