If you are involved in a bitter child custody battle with your ex, you may not be aware that parental abduction – however tempting – is a crime. A case recently occurred when a Queensland mother accused of disappearing with her twin daughters was arrested, charged with child stealing and then denied bail after fronting a Queensland Court.
The 46-year-old woman was extradited to Queensland four years after she and her twin daughters vanished from her Townsville home in April 2014. The children were recovered after an extensive joint investigation by Australian Federal Police and their Queensland counterparts.
Police said in 2014 that they did not fear for the safety of the children in the care of their mother. The children, from Townsville, were aged seven when they were allegedly abducted by their mother in April 2014.
Mr Watter had been granted custody of the twins in 2011 and in 2015 Family Court issued a recovery notice for the twin girls.
Parental Abduction Affects Welfare of Children
The most comprehensive study into the long-term effects of international child abduction found more than 70 per cent of the children involved reported suffering significant effects on their mental health.
British researcher and family law specialist Dr Marilyn Freeman conducted the study which was released in 2015.
She found children who had been abducted spoke repeatedly about their confusion, feelings of shame, self-hate, loneliness and insecurity.
The study concluded more must be done to protect children from parental abduction and its effects.
What To Do In Cases of Parental Abduction
Australia is a party to the ‘Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction’ which mediates international custody disputes. Under these agreements, if a parent unlawfully takes a child overseas they can be ordered back to the country of residence.
But if a child is taken to a country that isn’t a signatory to the convention (including Japan, Lebanon and China), it’s extraordinarily difficult for the other parent to get them back. And even if the country is a signatory, it’s not always possible to locate the child and the abducting parent.
When a person has allegedly abducted a child, full details of the alleged abductor and the child should be sent immediately to the nearest office of the Australian Federal Police (AFP). As soon as possible, a certified copy of the relevant ‘live with’ order, recovery order or court application should also be sent to the AFP. Details of the child and parent are then maintained on a warning list for a period of three months, unless a further request is received by the AFP. If there is a parenting order that provides for a child to live with or spend time with a parent/other person, or there are proceedings pending, and there is a fear of abduction overseas, the child can be placed on an airport alert list by contacting the AFP.
A temporary customs watch (known as a PACE Alert) can be requested following the filing of an application seeking orders restraining the removal of a child. That order will remain in place until seven days after the scheduled interim hearing date, unless a specific order is made and forwarded to the AFP and Customs (contact the AFP for the required information to make such an application).
The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (Family Law Act) imposes penalties on transport authorities involved in the removal of children when they have been served with copies of the court orders (s 65ZA Family Law Act).
Under the Australian Passports Act 2005 (Cth) (Australian Passports Act), an Australian passport will not be issued to an unmarried person under 18 years of age (the child), unless each person who has parental responsibility for the child consents to the child having an Australian travel document, or an Australian court order permits the child to have an Australian travel document, travel internationally, or live or spend time with another person who is outside Australia (s 11 Australian Passports Act).
Where one parent refuses to cooperate in making an application for a passport to be issued to a child, the other parent can bring an application (Initiating Application (Family Law) seeking both final and interim orders with a supporting affidavit) seeking that the court authorise the child to leave Australia and for a passport to be issued. If necessary, orders should be sought pursuant to s 106A of the Family Law Act authorising a registrar of the court to sign documents on behalf of a party who is refusing to do so.
An application for return of a child from a non-convention country should be made in accordance with the laws that apply there, and it may be necessary to employ a lawyer in that country to take legal proceedings to recover the child. The consular section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade may be able to provide a list of lawyers in that country. Unfortunately, this process can be more complicated, time consuming and expensive than the process under the convention. Further information is available from the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department website.
If you need assistance with any aspect of parenting arrangements, child custody or if you suspect parental abduction, please contact our friendly, experienced team today. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.