• Finding My Abducted Child - Acting Quickly, Thinking Creatively
  • January 15, 2019 | Author: Claire Blakemore
  • Law Firm: Withers LLP - London Office
  • A mother’s decision to ignore a court order and take her two daughters to live in her home country (Ukraine) without their father’s consent, has made the headlines today. These types of cases are enormously difficult for everyone involved: being refused permission to take your children back home after a relationship breaks down can be devastating; equally the prospect of a former partner moving abroad with your children, reducing quantity and quality of time they can spend with you, is an appalling prospect.

    In this case the mother was refused permission to return to the Ukraine, but she has taken the children to live there regardless. When parents take that decision unilaterally the implications can be shattering. Whilst usually the parent who has the child will give very valid reasons for their actions, the left behind parent is often terrorised by the prospect of not knowing when they will next see their children or what the future holds.

    For the children it is of course extremely unsettling and can be very traumatic. I have seen children whose personal and educational development have suffered following such a removal. Families are torn apart and anxiety reigns.

    The first question is whether the country to which the children have been taken is a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. If so there should be an established procedure for the child’s immediate return but some cases can be very challenging – especially when there is first the need to find the children, so lawyers advising parents have to act quickly and think creatively. In this case an additional challenge might be (depending on where in Ukraine the children have been or might be taken) is that whilst Ukraine is a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction it has made clear that it cannot currently guarantee its obligations in certain areas due to the Russian Federation’s occupation of Crimea and its control overs certain districts. The Russian Federation (also a signatory) refutes that position and states that the Convention can and should be complied with. The current situation must make the father in this case particularly more nervous about the chances of a return.

    Family Court cases involving children are almost always heard privately with reporting restrictions to protect children from being identified in the media. In this case however, the Times and others applied to the High Court for permission to report. Whenever the media is involved in any of my family cases (and not just those of this nature) I’ve asked our media team for their assistance as they know how to handle these sensitive situations. A multidisciplinary approach to such important decisions is key. A decision about the role of the media can have a significant impact upon the case and a key consideration is whether the involvement of the media will be beneficial to the child because once engaged the media profile will not be erased.

    The court will have to make a decision balancing the right of privacy of the children, but not ignoring the parents, with the right of freedom of expression in the context of what is in the best interests of the child. The mother’s right to privacy is less likely to be persuasive in circumstances where she has ignored the court’s order, but what is best for the children is finely balanced with the potential argument that publicity might help to bring the children back. Whereas usually parents want to retain privacy, media involvement might help to locate the children and so the Court will need to ensure that the children’s best interests are centre stage on the decision about media reporting. I will be following this case with interest.