There are a lot of myths and misinformation about International Parental Child Abduction / Kidnapping. So we asked one of our past clients to share their experiences from a left behind parents view.
Firstly, What is the Hague Convention for Child Abduction
“The Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a multilateral treaty, which seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of abduction and retention across international boundaries by providing a procedure to help bring an end swiftly by returning the abducted child. As you’ll read, this is a procedure that is outdated, and often protects the kidnapping parent in their country of citizenship, with numerous holes in it and International legislation. The “Child Abduction Section” provides information about the operation of the Convention and the work of the Hague Conference in monitoring its implementation and promoting international co-operation in the area of child abduction.” https://www.hcch.net/en/instruments/conventions/specialised-sections/child-abduction
This treaty prevents parents from taking the law into their own hands and fleeing to another country without the consent of the other parent, the left behind parent must have custody or shared custody when the abduction took place. Basically, it states that the custody trial must be held in the place of residence of the child before the abduction, and that when proven that both parents had custody and the child had a residence in that place, the child must be returned home and the only judge that has jurisdiction on this case is the local judge from the place of residence, The Habitual Residence.
As not all countries are signatories to the Hague Convention, it’s important to firstly, check that the country they were abducted to are signatories, see the below link for a list of signatory countries. I also learnt that some who are signatory states, have not been implemented so it’s important to check first so you know which options you are left with.
Has your children been taken?
The biggest error I made, was waiting. I had no idea how on earth I was going to deal with such a daugnting nightmare. My immediate advice based on my experience is not to wait. The most important issue in abduction cases is time. That time starts immediately from the time your children left your country.
You are going to go through the toughest time of your lives, there is no question it was for me. You will be shocked, in my case and I know in so many others, I didn’t know my children were taken until they were in a foreign country. I was completely devastated and wanted to drop to the floor and not wake up. Looking back now the most difficult thing is putting your anger aside and concentrate on what to do because as I said time is of the essence in abduction cases.
My first thought was to contact my ex and somehow speak to her to come home and we can solve our issues in an amicable way. What I soon found was that she really wasn’t the person I knew and her whole attitude and feelings to me completely changed. Either way you must initiate the process immediately. Remember that, IMMEDAIATELY start the process even if the abducting parent seems to be coming to terms they have done something very wrong and illegal. I didn’t do this because I didn’t know where to turn except police and attorneys. Police were not interested initially and informed me to seek legal advice. You will get the run around simply because not many know what to do or what advice to give in such a complex situation. If you wait or get the wrong advice, you are wasting time. I’ll note, the longer your children are in the foreign country settling into their new life, the harder it will be to have them returned. In fact you will loose the case if it’s more than a year old. Get things rolling including obtaining custody in your home country. You will need a attorney who is specialized in family law. That leads to my next issue.
Finding the correct solicitor to represent you?
This is a vital step as choosing the wrong attorney will cost you time, money and any chance of having your children returned. Lets just say I went through three solicitors who literally. First question is to ask them how many international cases they have dealt with. If they say none, I would stay away from them. Quickly get your head around basics by learning yourself about the Hauge Convention. By doing this you are in a position to ask the attorney questions, and with their reply you will understand which solicitors know what they are talking about or not. Remember time is crucial. At the same time be careful what you read and what advice you get online. I found many parents in the same situation but so many gave different advice, some even wanting money to help me with the process. I was surprised that searching the web I could see conflicting stories and information. If someone tells you or recommends something or someone, please double and triple check.
In my case, when I was looking for a solicitor, my family was able to find a person that was honest and told my family and me the reality of the process and how things work. They were specialized in child abduction cases and had a wealth of knowledge and through their contacts fond me an attorney in Ukraine.
When speaking to your solicitor ask specific questions about the Hague Convention, this will show you if the solicitor is knowledgeable, stay away from solicitors that give vague answers or those that will say I will get back to you about that, ask if they have dealt with a similar case before, tell them to guide you through the process, the next steps, then make your decision. Nothing will happen over night and that is what the hardest thing for me was. Despite the Hague Convention stating within six months etc that is so far from reality. As I have learnt myself and from speaking to other parents in my shoes, cases usually last on average one to many years. It will drain your funds and any savings you may have, so it’s important you prepare yourself financially and especially emotionally. You need to keep yourself healthy. This is a time you can start to be pro active and gather as many documents as possible that will support your case. Most won’t need to, but proving the habitual residence is key. Foreign countries are known to rule habitual residence of the children in a relatively short time and if that is the case you are in a deeper hole. Gather documents or contact your children’s doctors, schools, sporting teams, anyone that can support your children have been living in your country.
Stay focused on your case in your home country mine being the United Kingdom. The UK court’s decisions will be quicker than in my case the Ukraine court. The UK court will give you a decision requesting the children to be returned to their residence and stipulate the jurisdiction for the custody case. It’s also important to remember that once you lodge the Hague Convention application, it will (should) override any local court proceedings in the foreign country. Well, that is the way it should be, but I have heard of numerous cases where foreign courts are giving orders overriding the Hague Convention applications. A point to remember is that in some countries corruption is a major problem. I learnt this the hard way. The whole process will test you to your emotional limits. It’s is so important as I mentioned earlier to stay calm and not let the system or your anger for the other parent get to you. You need to take care of your self in order to get through this, take some time to focus on yourself, if you don’t have a hobby find one, seek support from friends and family. Staying strong for you and your kids is the most important thing.
I found keeping a private journal of all pictures and messages you have with your children very helpful. Anything you send to them even if it doesn’t get to the children, keep and put in your journal. You can show your children when they return jus how much you tried to find and return them. I would recommend avoid making things public. I have noticed some parents go public and create pages and groups. It might help others, but I was strongly advised against it by my solicitors and the organization that was guiding me. I was shown how going public has the reverse effect and how the other parent gets angry and retaliates just for going public. Media, I would completely avoid. I spoke to a journalist in the UK, but I had a funny feeling they were not interested in anything. After I found the organization to help me, I could clearly see the negative effects media will have on my case and it proved right.
Unfortunately with many including my own case, false allegations start being thrown around by the kidnapping parent. This is a normal process, in order for the parent that kidnapped the children to win the case they need grounds. The kidnapping parent’s solicitor will also be coaching the kidnapper on how best to make you look like a danger to the children. Two points my UK solicitor pointed out to me was worrying. If you are going to win your case through the courts these are the main focuses you and your attorney should be focusing on and gather as much evidence to support yourself and rebut any false allegations may they arise. It will not be pretty. I was accused of the most shocking things that were all proven false in court. This is why you need to stay strong emotionally in preparation for these allegations as damaging as they may feel.
1. the person, institution or other body having the care of the person of the child was not actually exercising the custody rights at the time of removal or retention, or had consented to or subsequently acquiesced in the removal or retention; or
2. there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation
In my case I was awarded custody in the UK and the Ukraine courts ordered the return of my children, however for me my biggest hurdle after almost two years of court proceedings with appeal after appeal, was the enforcement of the return orders. I learnt very quickly there is no enforcement. Local police in Ukraine do not care and will not help. Working with CARI throughout the whole process, is the only reason my children are now safe and happy living with me in the UK. After another year, I have allowed the mother to visit as many times as she pleases, under supervision of course! Looking back I am very happy I stayed out of the media, as my children can be left alone and not search google in years to come and bring up all the negative their mum was falsely accusing me of or how mum and dad was fighting. This information is based on my personal experiences. I wish all those parents going through this nightmare all the best of luck.