How do I apply for the return of my child via the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service?
If the answer is yes to the following questions, you should complete the Application Questionnaire and forward it in hard copy to the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service:
Is your child aged under 16 years?
Prior to the abduction, has your child been living permanently in Northern Ireland?
Do you have parental responsibility for your child?
If the answer is no to any of the questions, you should contact the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service(see Introduction) for information before completing the Questionnaire.
How quickly do I have to make my application after my child’s abduction?
It is advisable to make your application as soon as possible. However, if you believe there is a chance the abducting parent will return your child voluntarily, you may decide to delay your application. Any delay will need to be explained to the Central Authority in the foreign jurisdiction. If there is a legitimate reason, this should not cause a problem. However, please note that if the delay is over 12 months, your application can be rejected by the foreign Central Authority.
When I have submitted a completed questionnaire to the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, what happens next?
Your application will be checked by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service and a formal request will be prepared using the information you have provided. This will be submitted to the Central Authority in the country where your child has been taken. How your application is dealt with in the foreign jurisdiction varies slightly from one country to another. However, broadly speaking, if it is not possible to organize the voluntary return of your child to Northern Ireland, arrangements will be made for your application to be filed at the appropriate court in the jurisdiction where your child is living for a judicial determination.
How quickly will my application be processed?
The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service will aim to forward your application to the foreign Central Authority within 2 working days. Applicants should note that in cases where language translations are necessary, this could take longer.
The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service has no control over how quickly your application is processed by the foreign Central Authority. However, staff in the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service will liase regularly with the other Central Authority to ensure that your application is not delayed unnecessarily.
What is the cost of my application?
The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service makes no charge for processing your application. The Central Authority in the foreign jurisdiction will make no charge for any work that they do. However, in some countries you may be required to pay all or part of the cost of legal representation. You should also be prepared to pay the travel costs for your child’s return.
When will I hear how my application is progressing?
The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service will inform you, or your solicitor in this jurisdiction, as soon as your application is forwarded to the Central Authority abroad. You will then receive progress reports as soon as any information is received about how the application is being dealt with. You should contact the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (see Introduction for contact details) if you are concerned because you have not received an update.
Will I have to travel to the country where my child has been taken for a court hearing?
Courts dealing with applications under the Hague Convention are encouraged to do so without the need for the applicant being present at hearings. However, in some cases where an application is strongly defended by the abducting parent, the court requests the attendance of the applicant so that evidence from both parents can be given in person.
If I do have to travel abroad to attend court, who will assist me in the foreign country?
You will need to make your own travel and accommodation arrangements. Before you travel the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service will provide you with the address of the Court and the time and date of the hearing. A lawyer will attend the hearing to present your application to the court. If there is a language difficulty, you should discuss with the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service before you travel whether an interpreter can be arranged for the court hearing.
If the abducting parent decides to remain in the foreign country, how will arrangements be made for my child’s return to Northern Ireland?
Although the court in the foreign jurisdiction can order the return of your child to Northern Ireland, the Judge will have no authority to compel the abducting parent to return with your child. If your application is successful, you may need to travel to collect your child if the abducting parent does not wish to return. You should be prepared for this eventuality.
If I do not know the exact whereabouts of my child abroad, what steps will be taken to locate him or her?
If you know which country your child has been taken to, and have some idea where in that country he or she may be living, this is probably enough information for an application to be made. In most countries, the local police and/or Interpol will assist in locating your child. It is very important that you provide as much information as possible about the probable whereabouts. This will speed up the process in the foreign jurisdiction.
The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service can only assist if you know which country your child is in. If you are unsure of this, you should consider consulting a solicitor to assist you in tracing your child.
While my application is being processed in the foreign jurisdiction, will I be able to have contact with my child?
You may try to establish a voluntary arrangement with the abducting parent for contact with your child. You may wish to seek legal advice on whether or not you should make a formal application for contact.