Rule Number One - Don’t Panic! Dealing with International Children Act cases

Rule Number One - Don’t Panic! Dealing with International Children Act cases thumbnail

In recent months the Family Team has represented a number of parents involved in attempts to permanently relocate children from one country to another.

These cases are sometimes extremely urgent and may involve a trip to the High Court in London at least once before conclusion. Just like in our UK emergency child protection cases, we are often called upon to drop everything and find a way forward at very short notice. Our specialist Family Team has an ever growing practice involving such cases in the light of increased international relocation and a growing multiplicity of nationalities now living in Hull and the Humberside area.

Sometimes the cases have taken several months of preparation and a contested hearing before our local family judges in Hull or Grimsby for a decision as to whether a child should be permitted to emigrate with one parent, leaving the other in the UK. Unfortunately, there can never be a good outcome in such cases and they need sensitive direction from day one of instruction.

Other cases are those emergency, nightmare scenarios where a parent comes home from work to find that the children have been taken without notice to the other parent's home country. Those cases are the “drop everything” ones where we find ourselves drafting papers overnight and advising on an application to the High Court under the Child Abduction and Custody Act, the Hague Convention or – where an EU Member State is involved – under the Regulations of Brussels IIR.

Whatever the details of each particular case, early advice from a specialist family solicitor is the key to getting the best possible team together from the beginning and, therefore, the best prospects of success.

These international cases can be heartbreaking – whether it's children being caught in the middle of two parents who adore them but see their own futures apart and in different countries or whether it's an abduction or wrongful retention by one parent.

Our barristers will provide an instant and sensitive response to such distressing legal circumstances. We will always be able to arrange an urgent conference if necessary to ensure that an early plan of action is put into motion. In the emergency abduction or wrongful retention cases (perhaps where a parent has not returned a child home after a holiday) the legal position is complicated and the available defences to these unauthorised, unilateral actions on the part of one parent are extremely limited. For example, even where there has been physical or psychological abuse by the abandoned parent, it is often mandatory for the children to be returned to their home country for such matters to be determined – provided that the court is satisfied that appropriate and sufficient safeguards can be implemented upon return. This is usually achieved by the High Court in the UK seeking unequivocal undertakings from the abandoned parent to protect the children pending the final outcome of the case.

On behalf of the Family Team at Wilberforce we hope this brief outline of International children cases has been helpful. Watch this space for further more detailed and case specific presentations.

Sally Collins
Family Law Barrister