May 27, 2016

Why you should never take the law into your own hands over child abduction


By Kate Banerjee, Partner and head of the Children Department

Child custody disputes and parental abduction are understandably the most traumatic and sensitive issues in divorce.

They are further intensified when arguments cross international borders and one parent refuses to surrender or share access to the children – even when instructed to by a court – and the other is left frustrated by unavailable, unfair or inaccessible legal remedies.

The recent Beirut kidnapping case, where Australian mother, Sally Faulkner, is in a Lebanese prison facing a ten-year sentence after a failed child recovery operation, is an example of what can happen when you take matters into your own hands.

Despite Faulkner being awarded sole custody of her two children, Lahala, six and Noah, four, by an Australian family court, her estranged husband, Ali Elamine, took them from the country nearly a year ago then refused to let them return.

The case is further exacerbated by the fact that Lebanon is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, which helps facilitate the return of internationally abducted children.

It is extremely difficult to return a child from a country that has not signed the Hague Convention. The challenges a parent faces in such circumstances can be overwhelming and desperately frightening as they struggle to get their child back.

Even when the country is a signatory, the process is extremely traumatic and abusive for the child or children involved as they are subjected to significant emotional harm.

Nevertheless, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) makes it very clear that if a parent tries to ‘re-abduct’ a child it cannot step in and mop up should things go wrong.

I have considerable experience in international child abduction cases and am a member of the International Child Abduction and Custody Unit. While most clients believe that the government can intervene to order and help with the return of a child to England and Wales, the reality is that although support is available, parental child abduction cases can take years to resolve.

Similarly, Faulkner and her lawyers must now sort things out without the help of the Australian government and are said to be trying to reach a new agreement with her ex-partner’s legal team. However, they have had to offer to give up her sole custody in order for criminal charges to be dropped.

Despite the risks, covert tracing and snatching of children who have been abducted is a thriving business – yet it would be far better if divorcing parents considered a few preventative steps which we have outlined in a previous post.

If you have any comments, queries or concerns on child abduction or wider divorce related matters, leave a comment below, call the Jones Myers team on 0113 246 0055 or tweet us on @helpwithdivorce.