Cross border parental child abduction: how can we help 

If you are an international couple and your relationship has ended, the urge for one of you to “return home” or “move away” may be high. If you have children together, then you will need the consent of the other parent to move with the child to another country.

Without such consent, the parent who unilaterally decides to take the child will breach the rights of custody of the other parent and a “wrongful removal” or “retention” from the child’s normal place of residence (habitual residence) will then occur. This qualifies as “parental child abduction” and that parent may be breaking the law.

If your partner has taken your child to another country, it is very important that you act quickly. There are certain actions you will need to take, for example if your child has been taken to another EU country or country that is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, you should contact the Central Authority in your country to begin the process of having your child returned home.

We can support you by guiding you through the various options open to you in order to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. We will do so in an impartial and neutral manner, guided by the principle of the child’s best interest, bearing in mind that your child has the right to foster a relationship and contacts with both his parents, if it is not contrary to his interests. 

How can the European Parliament Coordinator help you? 

Assisting you in the complexity of proceedings

When an international parental child abduction takes place, there are both international and European legal instruments to enable the swift return of the child to his habitual residence where the courts there have jurisdiction to determine custody.

The Coordinator’s office is working closely with national Central Authorities, cross-border family mediator organisations, lawyers specialised in child abduction cases, NGOs and other key stakeholders in Europe and beyond. Where appropriate, we can help you by providing information on measures available to redress the situation. As the Coordinator’s assistance does not constitute legal advice, the information provided is of course additional to professional legal advice provided by your lawyers and does not replace it.

Mediation as an alternative to court in child abduction, custody and access disputes

We can explain how mediation works and we will seek to encourage you to consider this option, if appropriate.

Mediation in high conflict family cases such as child abduction can be very effective as parents are guided by impartial and experienced cross-border mediators, familiar with the complexities of such cases.

Mediation can help you to communicate with your former partner in a safe and neutral setting on issues involving your child, and find a voluntary, viable and child centred solution that will be acceptable to both parents, but most of all will be in the best interest of your child. It can also avoid long and costly court battles.

If you would like to know more about mediation, please send us an email or contact our office so that we can discuss this with you. We can assist you in contacting mediators trained in cross-border family conflict and in particular, child abduction cases in your country.

The importance of professional legal advice

Return proceedings are complex and so we urge you to seek advice from lawyers who have specialist knowledge and experience in parental child abduction legal proceedings. Central Authorities often have lists of lawyers working in this area. We can also guide you to networks of lawyers specialised in parental child abduction in the EU Member States.

If your child is abducted to a country where the Hague Convention does not apply, we can also inform you on local interventions.

  • Sarah Cecilie Finkelstein Waters 

    "Dear Parents,
    Abduction is a drastic step to take no matter what the circumstances. Whether justified or not, it gives the message to a child that a part of them, 50% of their DNA, heritage and family is to be rejected, looked down upon or pitied. This can be a devastating message to internalise. The self-hatred, guilt and confusion that can develop will have lifelong consequences and will influence a child’s relationship with themselves and others forever. Please act wisely and with great caution and foresight. Your child will thank you for it in the future.

    Watch the story of Sarah-Cecilie, abducted by her father as a young girl on: 

Legal framework: Parental Child Abduction

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child abduction applies in 98 states worldwide. It aims at securing the prompt return of children wrongfully removed or retained in a country and to ensure that the rights of custody and access are respected in both countries.

The Council Regulation (EC) 2201/2003, “Brussels IIa”, applies within the European area of Freedom, Security and Justice. Thus, with the exception of Denmark, European rules are applicable in EU Member States in addition to the Hague rules.

The European Parliament published a study on cross-border parental child abduction in the European Union (2015).

The European Commission also has a webpage dedicated to parental child abduction.