How to deal with international child custody concerns

9 July 2015 | Written by wearefactory

By Kate Banerjee, partner and head of the Children’s Department

The rise in parental child abductions – where a mum or dad snatches their own child – continues unabated.

Last year the Foreign Office dealt with nearly 500 cases – almost double the figure in 2005 –  and, according to a recent BBC programme, a British child is abducted and taken abroad by a parent, on average, every day.

Resolution, the organisation representing collaborative family lawyers, is addressing the growing need for the legal profession to be better informed and better able to help clients facing family law cases abroad. Its recent conference covered topics including how to spot and avoid abduction along with dealing with financial claims and maintenance after an overseas’ divorce.

International relationships and marriages are only part of the story behind the rise in abductions. Country specific family law legislation means that any issue relating to children can be challenging – with some parents prepared to take desperate measures. Even relocation abroad for work can push a parent into taking drastic actions to keep their child if their marriage breaks down.

The issue has been further catapulted into the media spotlight after two mothers calling themselves ‘Expat Stuck Mums’ launched a campaign aimed at mums and dads who find themselves trapped in a foreign country because the other parent forbids them to leave.

Like many people, these two women were unaware that children are automatically under a foreign jurisdiction when they move abroad because the new country becomes their ‘habitual residence’.

British courts have no say over what happens to the child and having British passports does not give either parent the right to take their children back to live in the UK without the consent of the other parent.

If there is a dispute about taking a child out of a country then requests must be settled by the family court in that jurisdiction. Whereas in the UK complex family cases are heard in a higher court, in many foreign countries a case may be heard by an inexperienced judge.

The Expat Stuck Mums are frustrated because they can ill afford to be stuck on foreign soil, often without any income and sometimes for years – yet risk prosecution if they abduct their children. They say that returning to the UK alone to fight for your child’s return isn’t an option as this could imply that you have abandoned your offspring.

As specialists in all matters relating to children, Jones Myers has first-hand experience of helping parents with returning their children to the UK. Here are some of our tips for dealing with international child custody issues:

  1. Be absolutely certain that a move overseas is right for you and your family. Even a trial or short term move means that your children’s future will be decided by the laws of that host country
  2. If you are unhappy abroad and want to return to the UK then try to negotiate with your child’s father or mother as a first step
  3. Never be tempted to take the law into your own hands. If you abduct your child then your credibility as a parent will be irretrievably damaged – particularly if you have ignored a court order. You could also face a jail sentence
  4. If you are concerned that the other parent could flee with your children then keep their passports safe – you could lodge them with a solicitor. You can also ask the Passport Agency in the UK to block the child’s mother or father from applying for a new passport
  5. Notify schools, child minders and even friends, about who is allowed to collect your child
  6. Contact Reunite, the UK’s International Child Abduction Charity, which operates a 24 hour emergency helpline -(0)116 255 6234
  7. If you receive a threat of child abduction, or if your child has been abducted, then contact the local police at once. They will alert airports and ferry terminals. Photos of your child, the other parents and details of any destination or person they could be heading to, will be helpful
  8. Seek legal advice immediately.

If you have any concerns about parental child abduction or any matter relating to children and divorce then please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail. You can follow us on Twitter at @helpwithdivorce


  1. I’m Egyptian married to British and my son was born and live with me in Egypt my husband cheated on me and has a woman pregnant now from him and is scaring me to take my child from me to the UK and I don’t have a visa to the UK and I don’t want to join him there would you please help me

    1. Thank you for your query. We advise you seek immediate assistance from an Egyptian lawyer and seek the equivalent of a Prohibited Steps Order/ Child Arrangement Order (lived with) in Egypt. In the event that you do return to the UK with your son you will need the assistance of a British lawyer. Please note we cannot be responsible for any problems which may arise unless we have the opportunity of a detailed discussion in regard to all the facts and the action which is required. We are making general observations only from the limited facts available. We advise that you seek a short appointment with a solicitor who is a member of Resolution. Alternatively, you can contact us for an appointment at Leeds on 0113 246 0055, Harrogate on 01423 276104, or York on 01904 202550. Visit, email

  2. Im a GBO from Bermuda, I moved here due to medical reasons and had a verbal agreement with my oldest child’s father that our daughter would join me for September school term the following year. She was to spend all school holidays with her father back in Bermuda. Once I left the country he reniged on our agreement even though there is a court order for us to Co-parent. I gave him care and control because he had a more stable living situation at the time of judgement. How can I go about effecting our verbal agreement??

  3. Thank you for the information.

    My son was born in America and his mother is a British Citizen. We moved to the UK after 1.5 years. We are getting a divorce and I want to take him back to America. Do the UK courts have jurisdiction over my American born son? Even tho he’s a dual citizen because his mother is British? Any information would be useful.

    I am now a “stuck expat.”

    Thank you.

    1. Dear Matt – thank you for contacting Jones Myers, we will pass your query and email details to the Children’s Department, best regards

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