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Parental Child Abduction (within the UK)

What is Parental Child Abduction?

For the purpose of this section, abduction is where one parent leaves the family home without warning and takes the children with them to live at an unknown location.

What to do if I find the house empty?

It is a terrifying situation to come home and find the house is empty. Desertion is thankfully rare, but devastating when your partner has left with your children without warning. Firstly, don´t panic

Most importantly, consider the reasons why you believe your partner has left. Before taking any action you should review the circumstances that led up to their leaving and whether you also believe the relationship to be over:

  1. It may be that your partner simply needed to get away due to unhappiness about some aspect of their life and they were struggling to cope.
  2. If you have been guilty of domestic violence, they may have been advised to remove themselves and your children from an abusive situation into a place of safety.
  3. Your relationship may have been in trouble for some time and they decided that the relationship was over but felt unable to tell you.

When someone leaves without warning, it is usually because they feel the need to take control of their lives.

I still love my partner, what do I do?

Again this depends entirely on the circumstances, and whether you believe that your partner is able to provide a suitable level of care for your children. If you have no concerns over your partner´s mental health, and if there are no "risk" issues to consider such as parental alcoholism, drug addiction or abusive behaviour, you have several options:

In any relationship experiencing difficulties, communication is the best way to resolve the underlying problems. If you do manage to speak to your partner, or if family and friends will pass on a message on your behalf, show a willingness to listen to the reasons that led to your partner leaving home.

A willingness not only to consider your partner´s feelings but also look at and consider changing your own behaviour may help to save your relationship. Couple counselling will help with this, especially when communication has broken down. Importantly, your partner also needs to consider your feelings for the relationship to work, and couple counselling shouldn´t be a one-sided process. You can find a counselor experienced in couple counselling via the Counselling Directory.

What if the children are at risk?

If you think your children are at risk, you may find yourself facing mixed emotions. To involve Social Services may jeopardise your relationship with your partner and it may drive a permanent wedge between you (no one likes being told that people don´t think they are a safe parent). You have several options and your choice has to be based on your current situation and the reasons for your concern. If you´re not sure what to do, then take advice.

The options are:

  1. Phone the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The NSPCC staff are trained Social Workers and will refer you to Social Services if they share your concern.
  2. Contact your local Social Services Child Protection Unit.
  3. Contact the police.
  4. Contact a solicitor. If you don´t have Parental Responsibility, it is important to speak to a solicitor as soon as possible to make an application to the Court for this to be granted. Once Social Services become involved, it can become a public law matter (not private law), and being a biological parent doesn´t mean that your children will automatically come back to live with you if your partner doesn´t return to your house. Again, you can apply to the court yourself and apply for a:

    Parental Responsibility Order

  5. Go to court and ask the judge to grant an order to seek and find and recover the children to your care. You may also apply for an Emergency Protection Order if you think the children are at risk of significant harm.
  6. If you think there is any risk of the children being unlawfully removed abroad, contact the charity Reunite.

How can I help the authorities?

If Social Services, the Courts or the Police share your concerns, then provide as much information as you can to help trace them. Filling your time can help you to cope emotionally, especially when you´re doing something practical. Put together a pack of the following:

Bear in mind that if your ex-partner claims Social Security they will need to give their current address to the Benefits Office. It is very difficult to "disappear" for long.

What will Social Services do?

If Social Services become involved, their priority won´t be to reunite you with your child, but to ensure that your child is safe. If your ex-partner has taken your child to stay with relatives, friends, or is in a refuge, then they may not even inform you of the location of your child. That said, informing Social Services of your concerns may get you some support and immediate action. Social Services have a duty to take action if they (not you) consider your child to be at risk, or likely to be at risk, of significant harm.

What will the police do?

If you contact the Police, be clear about what you want them to do. Are you contacting them just to check that your child is safe, or do you firmly believe your child needs to be taken into Police protection?

The Police have specialist officers called Child Protection Officers. The Police have the power to remove a child from their home, or elsewhere if there are concerns about the child´s welfare.

The Police can keep a child under Police protection for up to 72 hours. They must inform Social Services as soon as is practically possible and Social Services are responsible for organising accommodation for the child. The Police do not have to inform you of where your child is, however they do have to provide you with the name of the Social Worker handling the case. They also have a duty to tell parents that their child is under Police protection.

You may be able to agree with Social Services that you are best placed to care for your child during this period of time. Alternatively, Social Services may decide to go to Court to apply for an Emergency Protection Order, or to request that the Court make a Supervision or Care Order.

A Care Order allows Social Services to take the children named in the order into care for as long as the order remains in force. A Supervision Order places the child under the supervision of Social Services and the Social Worker should assist, advise and befriend them.

Guidelines for the Police were changed following Lord Laming´s inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié. One important recommendation was that the children should be seen and their circumstances assessed prior to being taken into Police protection.

Can I handle matters myself?

We recommend you do not take the law into your own hands, however you can handle the matter lawfully by making a private application to the Court for an Emergency Protection Order and Recovery Order depending on the seriousness of your concern. We have a separate guide to Emergency Protection Orders. Again, an application for an Emergency Protection Order should only be made if you believe your children to be at risk of significant harm. If an Emergency Protection Order is made:

Be aware that an Emergency Protection Order only lasts for 8 days, and during that time both you and the other parent can make applications for other court orders, including residence. If you do not have parental responsibility, you should also apply for this as a matter of urgency to ensure you are included in decisions about your children if Social Services become involved.

Emergency Protection Orders

Tips when approaching a solicitor?

If you approach a solicitor to help you, make sure they specialise in family law. Questions to ask should include:

What other Court Orders may assist me?

If you are using a solicitor, they should advise you as to courses of action you can take. If you do not qualify for legal aid, and you cannot afford a solicitor, you might also consider applying for one or more of the following court orders yourself:

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Michael Robinson © 2014

Family law information for parents whose children are resident in England and Wales

Crown Copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's printer for Scotland.

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