Child Abduction Matters

Here you will find practical advice on how and where to seek help in relation to child abduction and the enforcement of orders relating to your children within the European Union. Although it is addressed mainly to parents, it will be equally valuable to anyone who has a residence or care order for a child. It will also assist anyone who has or is seeking contact/access to a child living overseas.

As evidenced by recent news articles in the media international disputes concerning children continue to increase. They are always distressing and difficult for all concerned, especially the children. Very often cases are played out in the full glare of the media. Each parent may believe that he or she has the right to have the child living with them or to have contact/access with the child.

Often a parent will have court orders providing for residence or contact. In general disputes about arrangements for children are decided by the courts of the country in which the child is located unless the parents agree. The nationality of the child will have little bearing on where the case is heard. As of 1 March 2005 some court orders made in Northern Ireland and orders made in other European countries will be enforceable in countries which are members of the European Union (except Denmark). Court orders made by family courts in Northern Ireland are not otherwise directly enforceable outside the United Kingdom.

Parents whose children are abducted or who have orders made by the courts in Northern Ireland for contact with their children living overseas hold high expectations of what the government and other agencies can do to help them. While help is available, the arrangements with overseas countries are complicated and you are strongly advised to contact a solicitor or a Citizens Advice Bureau for legal advice. For details of solicitors with particular experience in this specialist field you may wish to contact the Law Society. Procedural advice may be given by the Central Business Unit of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service in Belfast; Consular Division of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, the Passport Agency or Reunite: International Child Abduction Centre which is a charity specialising in assisting parents. For contact information for all these organisations, please see: Useful Addresses and Links for contact details.

Parents who have brought their children to Northern Ireland from abroad and who are concerned as to the situation in which this action places them and their children may also approach the organisations listed in: Useful Addresses and Links for contact details to obtain information about the implications of their situation. If you are in this position you should also consider obtaining legal advice so that the situation can be resolved.

Further Information

Glossary of terms

The following terms you will come across

If your child has been abducted or you fear that abduction may occur in the future, it would be useful to have on hand as much of the following information as possible.

Checklist

If your child has been abducted or you fear that abduction may occur in the future, it would be useful to have on hand as much of the following information as possible.

Information about the child

  • full name
  • date and place of birth
  • passport number, date and place of issue
  • photographs or a physical description
  • any entitlement to a passport other than a British passport

Information about the person who has taken the child

  • full name including any prior or maiden name and any aliases if applicable
  • date and place of birth
  • passport number, date and place of issue
  • photograph or a physical description
  • occupation
  • probable date of departure
  • departure information ie flight, train, ferry
  • details of ties to a foreign country, such as the names, addresses and telephone numbers of relatives, friends and business contacts

Copies of documents

  • any agreements or court orders which relate to the child
  • child's birth certificate
  • marriage certificate or divorce decree
  • name and address of solicitor if you have one

The Central Authority

The Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985 designates the Lord Chancellor as the Central Authority for England and Wales and the Department of Justice as the central authority for Northern Ireland.  In Scotland, the Secretary of State is the Central Authority.  The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, discharges the functions of the Central Authority in Northern Ireland.

The duties of the Central Authority in Northern Ireland are carried out by the Central Business Unit, Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service which is the designated Central Authority for Northern Ireland. The Central Business Unit is also the designated Central Authority under the Revised Brussels II Regulation (“Brussels IIa”) having been appointed in accordance with Article 67 of the Regulation.

Application to the Central Authority

Although there is no specified form for making an application to a Central Authority under the Hague or European Conventions, in cases where a child has been abducted from Northern Ireland (outgoing cases) applicants are provided with an Application (Questionnaire) and Notes for Guidance.  This enables the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service to send out an application which broadly follows the model suggested by the Hague Convention.  An application from another Convention country in cases where it is believed that a child has been abducted to Northern Ireland (incoming cases) will be accepted in any form, provided that it contains sufficient information.  Requests for information and assistance are usually made by telephone or by letter.

Staff in the Central Business Unit of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service process applications and provide information to parents, solicitors and others on the steps they may take to recover children who have been removed unlawfully to or from Northern Ireland.  The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service communicates regularly with Central Authorities in other countries regarding cases, passing on information and providing assistance where necessary.

If your child has been taken to a Convention country (see Countries in the Conventions), you should contact the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service.  You will be asked to provide brief details over the telephone and you will be sent an application/questionnaire to complete.  Alternatively, you can complete the application by using the Application (Questionnaire) on this website.  The completed application should be sent in hard copy to the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service.

The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service is open from Monday to Friday (9 am to 5 pm) and the contact details for child abduction matters are:

Operational Policy Branch
Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service
4th Floor
Laganside House
23 - 27 Oxford Street
Belfast BT1 3LA

E-mail:  InternationalChildAbduction@courtsni.gsi.gov.uk
Tel:  +44 030 0200 7812 (Ext. 70008 or 70019).

The Law in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland child abduction involves both the civil and criminal law. However, once a child has been removed from the United Kingdom, parental abduction is usually treated as a civil matter.

1996 Hague Convention

The 1996 Hague Convention, this is a Convention of the Hague Conference which covers a wide range of civil measures for protection concerning children. It reinforces the Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction by underlining the primary role played by the authorities where the child habitually resides in deciding upon any measures which may be needed to protect them.

Legal Representation

Solicitors and barristers who are in private practice in Northern Ireland represent applicants in Convention cases before a Northern Ireland court. The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service does not represent applicants at court.

Countries in Convention

Countries in which the Hague and European Conventions are in force with the United Kingdom updated from the HCCH website July 2013

Enforcement of contact access/orders

From 1 March 2005 some court orders made in Northern Ireland dealing with parental responsibility will be enforceable throughout the European Union (with the exception of Denmark).

How child abduction cases are handled and interational agreements

The Hague Convention, the European Convention and the Revised Brussels II Regulation (Brussels IIa) are all based on a system of Central Authorities. Each member country appoints a Central Authority which functions as the contact point for all applications under the Conventions or the Revised Brussels II Regulation.

Advice to parents if your child has been taken to a Convention country

You or your legal adviser should contact the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service.

Advice to parents if your child has been taken to a non Convention country

You should contact the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

Preventing child abduction

If you fear that your child may be taken abroad without your consent, you should consider the following

Frequently asked questions

Questionnaire and notes for guidance

Access the Questionnaire and the Notes for Guidance. You should read the Notes for Guidance before completing the Questionnaire

Contact details

The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service is open from Monday to Friday (9 am to 5 pm) and the contact details for child abduction matters are:

Helen Milliken
Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service
4th Floor
Laganside House
23 - 27 Oxford Street
Belfast BT1 3LA

E-mail:  InternationalChildAbduction@courtsni.gsi.gov.uk
Tel:  028 9072 8808 or 028 9072 8819
Fax:  028 9072 8945
DX: 478 NR,   BELFAST 1

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