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Parental Abduction and Taking Children Overseas

Parents should think twice before taking their child overseas without first getting permission from the child’s other parent. A number of legal restrictions are in place to prevent a child leaving Australia without the consent of both parents. Even if you are only planning a short holiday, it is important to get permission from the other parent first. This is especially important if parenting disputes or parenting orders exist. Taking a cihld overseas without the permission of the other parent may amount to parental abduction.

What is parental abduction?

Parental abduction refers to a situation when one parent takes, detains or conceals a child from the other parent. In Australia, an estimated 3 to 4 children each week are abducted by a parent into or out of the country. While a parent’s intentions may be good, it is possible that taking a child overseas for any reason, without the consent of the other parent, could be deemed parental abduction, a crime that attracts a penalty of three years imprisonment.

How does a parent take a child overseas?

If a child does not already have a passport, a passport application will need to be completed for the child and signed by both parents. If a parent does not wish their child to leave the country, they can refuse to sign the application.

There are serious penalties for forging a signature or providing false or misleading information in a passport application.

What if parents disagree about an overseas trip?

A parent can alert the Passport Office and have their child’s name added to a child alert list for up to12 months. This means that the Passport Office will contact the other parent of the child should a passport application be lodged in respect of the child.

If one parent believes that the other parent is being unreasonable or spiteful in withholding permission for a child to travel overseas, approval can be sought from the Family Court. The parent wishing to travel with the child will need to provide the Court with all information regarding the overseas trip including an itinerary (where, why, when and with whom the child will be travelling) as well as any links they may have to the country they are travelling to. If the Court deems it in the best interests of the child to travel overseas, then the Court can order that the child can travel overseas without the consent of the other parent. In some cases, the Court may require a sum of money be paid as security and refunded on return with the child.

If a child already has a passport and there are concerns that parental abduction may occur, the Court can order the child’s passport be delivered to the Court and kept there for a specified period.

Family Law Watch List

In cases where a parent believes their child will be travelling overseas without their consent, a child can be placed on the Family Law Watch List, otherwise known as the Airport Watch List. This list is managed and enforced by the Australian Federal Police.  For a child to be placed on the Watch List, a form must be completed and submitted to the Australian Federal Police together with a Court Order or a Parenting Order that prevents the child from overseas travel. This means that the Australian Federal Police will stop a parent at the airport and prevent the listed child from leaving the country. Once an Airport Watch List Order is in place, a child cannot leave the country with either parent.

The Hague Convention

In circumstances where a child has already been taken out of the country by a parent without the other parent’s permission, an urgent Court application can be made and the Court can order that the child be returned to Australia. If the country where the child has been taken is a party to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction, the Australian Federal Police will assist in implementing the order and returning the child to Australia.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, otherwise known as “The Hague Convention”, is an international agreement that covers parental abduction of children. It provides a process through which a parent can seek to have their child returned to their home country. If your child has travelled to a country that is a signatory to the Hague Convention, then the authorities in that country will work with the Australian authorities and force the return of the child to Australia. Please note, not all countries are signatories to the Hague Convention.

Get legal advice

The law exists to protect children and families from unlawful child abduction. It is important to seek legal advice if you are planning to take your children out of the country or if you are worried that your partner may travel with your child against your wishes. GTC Lawyers are here to assist you should you have any concerns regarding the conditions of your child travelling overseas. Our team is highly experienced in all parental dispute matters, court applications and processes. Please contact our office to make an appointment.

If you require legal advice or representation in relation to parental abduction or in any other legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.


Susan Wild

Susan holds a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Business. She was admitted to practice in the New South Wales Supreme Court in 2011. Susan practiced in a boutique Family Law firm in Sydney before relocating to Queensland in 2014 to advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse in the areas of family law, child protection and domestic violence. Susan is knowledgeable in both Queensland and New South Wales jurisdictions. With a primary focus on family law, Susan also has experience in criminal law, civil law, wills and estates and property law.

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