International Child Abduction

How the headlines happen

Caring for children after a separation is complicated enough. Add international travel into the mix and things can get really messy, really quickly. At least 120 Kiwi children get caught up in international custody disputes each year. In many cases, the parent, who is often from overseas, does not initially intend to permanently remove the child from New Zealand. Others decide to take the child and worry about the consequences later. The prohibitively expensive cost of court action and the restrictions on legal aid can make fleeing to another country seem like the only option even when they know that doing so is unlawful.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction puts measures in place among member nations to ensure that a child who has been abducted internationally by one parent will be swiftly and smoothly returned to their home country. It can be exceedingly difficult and expensive for this process to occur when one or more of the countries involved is not a member of the Convention. One controversial aspect of the Hague Convention is that it does not take into account whether a child would ultimately be better off with the parent who has abducted them in the country to which they have been removed. Whether that should change is currently the subject of wide debate.

A case dating back to 2012 involved a father, based in New Zealand, who filed a claim of abduction against his now-estranged wife for not returning their young daughter from Denmark. Back in March 2012, the father was awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court to have the custody hearing held in New Zealand, where his daughter was born, instead of in Denmark, where his daughter was taken. Despite the Supreme Court’s impending ruling, Denmark still planned to move forward with its local custody hearing. The frustrated father, who had spent an exorbitant amount of money travelling back and forth between Denmark and New Zealand over the few years prior, alleged that while New Zealand may have upheld its obligations under the Hague Convention, Denmark had not, and should have been doing more. He stated, “The abduction was proven, [the daughter’s] residence was proven, and the only other thing that needed to be proven…proved inconclusive. Denmark should be following up on this. They need to uphold their obligations.”

A different case dating back to 2013, involved a teenaged girl from New Zealand who went to Australia on her own accord. As Australia deemed the matter a civil issue, the father felt powerless to get his daughter back, since she had no desire to return to New Zealand. The father was simply shocked that his daughter was so easily able to leave New Zealand in the first place, and believed that legal structures should be in place to prevent a minor from leaving New Zealand without parental consent or accompaniment.

If you have an interest in learning about how custody battles can spiral into international child abductions and become major news stories, come to the Wellington Central Library for our Law for Lunch seminar on Wednesday 12 August at 12:30pm to learn what you can do to avoid this situation.

If you are concerned your child may be at risk of being abducted overseas by another parent, or if your child has been abducted to a Hague Convention country, you can contact the Central Authority at the Ministry of Justice or a lawyer for assistance to make an application for the return of the child. Contact the Ministry by phone at 04-918 8800 (+64-4-918 8800 if you are outside New Zealand,) or email Patricia Bailey, the Ministry’s contact person.

If your child was abducted to a non-Hague Convention country, you will likely need to employ an overseas lawyer. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs may be able to provide you a list of lawyers in the overseas country.

By Laura Faas

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