Australia is currently debating marriage equality with many throwing suggestion that this vote is the greatest threat to the family structure. The public are being implored to “think of the children” and the impact this vote could have on them.
In our line of work there is a far greater threat to children that continually gets brushed under the carpet, which our Governments and law makers refuse to act upon. That threat is Parental Abduction!
In Australia alone approximately 250-300 cases of parental abduction are recorded nationally. These figures continue to climb annually and are occurring across the world. Studies show that children benefit best from having a consistent relationship with both parents yet the anger yielded from the separation and divorce process between the parents, and fueled by the “advice” of courts and lawyers often result in one parent deciding to exclude the other parent from their child’s life.
Rare cases this can be justified, in cases of sexual molestation and abuse, but in general a parents decision to exclude the other parent is made in anger and hostility NOT in the best interests of the child.
Recently we took on a case in Europe where the father was awarded full custody and was able to return home with his child. The mother was granted 7 days to return the child to him. Yes she was given 7 days – not immediately. The father was instructed to go to the mother and collect the child. If the child was not handed over, the father was to file with the local police and courts to get an order to retrieve the child YET he already had custody orders. These orders would take 1-2 weeks to process giving the mother up to 3 weeks to abscond with the child. Luckily for this client he had been working with CARI prior to the ruling and our team monitored her movements whilst the court process played out but most parents don’t come to us until after the parent has taken off with the child. Too many parents trust the legal process will help them and they don’t realise until its too late just how ineffective it is when it comes to parental abduction.
This can be seen as the court process aiding the Abductor, despite the ruling not in their favour they are still given the opportunity to run and believe us, in the majority of most of these cases the parents do run.
The Family Law system across the world is broken. Despite their laws and their rulings, there are only two winners in the Family Law system. The Abductor who can spot the many loopholes and use them to their advantage. The lawyers are also the winners who don’t take seriously the issue of parental abduction and line their pockets with their excessive fees.
Family Law is meant to work in the best interests of the child but it rarely does. It is a breeding ground to incite anger and to motivate abductors to use the holes in the system to the full extent for their own personal gain. It creates a notion that children are part of a settlement, an asset to the marriage essentially.
Children that have been abducted by one parent often live like fugitives. In the majority of our cases these children were unable to access medical treatment and education. They were unable to participate in activities with other children for fear of being caught. Many of the children that we rescue are found with medical conditions, dental issues and are often malnourished. This in itself is child abuse, and the courts are the accessories to this abuse.
Law Makers and Courts need to review what they have put in place and it is simple. Parental Abduction is a crime and Retention of a child is a crime. They need to focus on the enforcement of the orders made in the court. If a parent has full custody or if a parent has a recovery order, action needs to be taken swiftly that these orders are adhered to. Giving a parent notice to surrender a child simply does not work!
Lawyers need to stop using the system for their own financial gain and put the interests of their client’s children first. Become educated on how easily it is to move a child, recognize how common it is for Abductors to flout the law and work with them for the best solution to safeguard from this result.
What steps can be taken, there are several:
· When a parent is awarded custody, particularly in the case where are child has already been abducted. Don’t put the onus on the custodial parent to retrieve the child. Attach an enforceable recovery order so that the police can work with the custodial parent to return the child immediately
· In cross borders retention, Governments should work with their foreign counterparts to ensure that enforcement and retrieval can be utilized with the resources of the local authorities
· Harsher penalties need to be introduced for parents that abduct and retain children.
· Every child that has been abducted should be placed on an international watch list immediately. These parents move around and cross borders to elude authorities.
· Hague Convention Applications should be processed swiftly to ensure that abducting parents do not take advantage of Article 12, which will see the ruling work in their favour as they have established the habitual residence in the Abductors country of choice.
· Educate all Family Law lawyers on the impact parental abduction can have on a child, ensure that the rights and protection of the child is the first concern of their case, not their client’s wishes.
· Most importantly acknowledgment that this is a crime, not a private family matter.
Instead of investing $122 million on a postal survey on gay marriage, Australia would have been better off investing those funds into enforcing parents to return abducted children. Educating lawyers on the risks of parental abduction. Investing into the family law system to ensure that children are not used as pawns in their parent’s battles and forced to live as a fugitive.
Gay marriage is not the biggest threat to children. Parental Abduction is! The actions of abducting parents cause long term damage to the children and unnecessary grief.
So to the Australian Government, you should think of the children and start investing in the system that is causing them the greatest damage – the family law system!