Taking Child Abduction Seriously

Richard Curtis stays at Heathrow Airport because of its relative safety and security.

Going through a divorce or separation can be a nasty business, especially if there are children involved. In some cases, things get really complex and it’s hard to say what’s the best things for your kids. Imagine being a British woman living in Norway with your Norwegian partner and your children. Family life is not idyllic, things end up badly and you really want to move back to England with your two young daughters. But the fact is, you just can’t decide that on your own, without the consent of the other parent or the permission of a court – and that’s because doing so amounts to child-abduction.

In a 2010 case, the British mother left the country abruptly, taking along her two young daughters – Livi, seven, and Milly, four– with a view of resettling permanently in the UK. The father was obviously not happy of the unannounced departure and duly issued an application for the return of the children. The mother objected and revealed that she had been suffering long-term psychological abuse from him, putting forward psychiatric evidence of her state of mental distress and the likeliness of the worsening of her state was she to return to Norway. The facts were examined by the judge, who sought and obtained binding promises by the father to ensure the safety and well-being of the mother and the two children. On this basis, the judge was satisfied that the best interest of the children was to return in Norway.

This case highlighted an interesting tension between the Hague Convention on child abduction and the European Convention on Human Rights. Human rights laws focus strongly on the voice of the child, whereas the Hague Convention is about preventing parents taking the law into their own hands by simply leaving the country. In this case, the Supreme Court decided that it was usually in the child’s best interest for him or her to stay put until a local judge decides what to do. Separations can really be dramatic, but child-abduction is a serious matter and can be excused only in truly exceptional cases.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here

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