By Bronwyn Montgomery (Lawyer) and Kristina Antoniades (Special Counsel)
Any parent can appreciate the anxiety another parent feels when their former partner makes the unilateral decision to remove their child from the country in which they are living, without that parent’s consent or knowledge. This is known within family law as child abduction.
If your child has been removed from Australia (or the country you live in) without your knowledge or consent, you should immediately seek the advice of a family lawyer. Your lawyer will most likely talk to you about your options pursuant to the ‘Hague Convention’.
What is the Hague Convention?
The Hague is a city in the Netherlands. It’s known throughout the world as the International City for Peace and Justice, is the site of several international courts, and is the venue for key conferences resulting in international agreements. One such agreement, well known to family lawyers, is the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (signed on 25 October 1980), also known as the “Hague Convention”.
The object of the Hague Convention is to promptly return any children meeting criteria under the Convention to the applicable country.
Applicability in Australia
Australia is a signatory to the Hague Convention, and it is implemented in Australia via the Family Law Act 1975 and the Family Law (Child Abduction Convention) Regulations 1986. Put simply, if a child is taken from Australia to another country that is a signatory to the Hague Convention (or vice versa), the parent seeking their child’s return can make an application to the Central Authority in either jurisdiction. They will have to satisfy several specific criteria when they do so, which we will discuss in a further post.
If an application is accepted, the Central Authority will engage with the Court and government in the other jurisdiction on the applicant’s behalf. If the Central Authority cannot assist the parent applying for the child’s return, they can engage private legal representation to do so.
For countries that are not signatories to the Hague Convention, the matter becomes more legally and practically fraught as you do not have the benefit of multi-national coordination. However, Australia does currently have separate agreements with some non-signatory countries.
If a person is unsure what country their child has been taken to, the Central Authority can sometimes take steps to try to locate the child.
In our next post, we look at the criteria that apply to an application under the Hague Convention. If you have any questions in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact our Family & Relationship Law team.