Children taken abroad without consent; who really wins?
The recent sentencing of Indea Ford, a mother who took her two young children to Alaska without the father’s consent, has highlighted that family proceedings are quite separate from criminal proceedings. Graeme Barclay, Family Partner, explains here that while a family ruling may be in your favour, you may still face criminal action, and why it is always important to put the children first.
Mrs Ford’s relationship with the children’s father ended in 2012 after she claimed he was violent towards her. The court ruled that Mr and Mrs Ford would have joint care of the children with each parent holding one of the girls’ passports. Mrs Ford re-married an American man in 2014 and had a child with him, before applying to move to Alaska with Mr Ford’s children. This request was denied in May 2015 but she moved to Alaska in October of the same year anyway having obtained a new passport for the second child. In doing so, she broke a court order and family court judgment preventing her from moving the children abroad. Mr Ford applied to the court five days after they left and the children were made wards of the court with two further orders being made that required Mrs Ford to return the children to England immediately.
Mrs Ford claimed that she never received these orders, but in the meantime Mr Ford had already informed the police who took steps to arrest and extradite Mrs Ford. In April 2017, Mrs Ford was arrested but was granted bail, before being put in custody in January of this year. She then returned to the UK in April of this year with the children staying in Alaska with their stepfather.
Applications when children are taken abroad
When a child is taken abroad without the consent of one parent, they are allowed to apply to the court in the country under the Hague Convention. Unfortunately, Mr Ford did not take forward any initial enquiries he made under the Hague Convention at the time and so, as the children had been settled in Alaska for three years at the time of Mrs Ford’s arrest, and therefore seen as habitual residents, Mr Ford was not successful in having the children returned to the UK.
“By this point, the court saw that it was in the children’s best interest to stay in Alaska,” explains Graeme. “If Mr Ford had made a claim at the time through the Hague Convention, the court may have ruled wrongful removal and the children may have been returned.”
While this was the outcome Mrs Ford may have wanted in having the children remain in the US away from their father, she admitted the criminal accusation of abduction and was sentenced to three years and six months in prison. It is likely she will serve approximately nine months as she has already served time in prison in America.
“This outcome has been not only destructive for the parents, but also for the children, who will now not see either of their parents for the foreseeable future,” concludes Graeme. “It is so important that if you have separated from the other parent of your children and wish to take them abroad, you do so in the proper fashion and follow the law. Similarly, if the other parent has taken your children abroad without your consent, there are rules that apply to having them returned. While this can be a frustrating time for both sides, the children’s best interests must come first, and this is the stance any court will take, so you must seek appropriate legal advice before taking any steps.”
If you are looking to have your child returned from abroad, or you are looking to move abroad with your children, you can contact Graeme or the Family team for advice on 023 8071 7431 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.