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What is a PACE Alert or Airport Stop?

The Passenger Analysis Clearance and Evacuation System (PACE) can be used to place an alert which prevents a child from leaving Australia. This is more commonly referred to as an ‘airport stop.’ The process can also be used to prevent a child from leaving by sea, such as on a cruise ship.

If a child already has a passport, the only way to prevent them from leaving the country is to obtain a court order for a PACE alert and send it to the Australian Federal Police. If the child does not have a passport, you may instead be able to seek an injunction preventing their other parent from obtaining a passport for them.

Airport stops or PACE alerts to prevent child abduction from Australia

How do I obtain a court order?

The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) permits the Family Court of Australia to make a parenting order preventing a child from travelling overseas, or limiting the countries to which they may travel to only those countries with which Australia has an international child abduction agreement in place.

You can make a request to the Court that it consider a matter urgently, if necessary. To do so, lodge your application with a supporting affidavit indicating why you need the matter dealt with quickly. You may be able to have it dealt with even without notice to the other parent. You should include a cover letter stating that the matter is urgent.

What should I include in my affidavit?

When you write an affidavit asking for a court order to prevent a child from being taken overseas, you should include the following information:

  • why you believe the child is going to be taken overseas and when you believe it will happen
  • whether it is to be permanent or temporary and what makes you believe this is the case
  • if the parent planning to take the child overseas has indicated it will only be temporary, reasons why this may not be the case, such as their ties to another country and whether that country has an international child abduction agreement with Australia
  • whether the other parent has previously made significant decisions for the child without consulting you
  • whether the other parent has made it difficult for you to spend time or communicate with the child
  • your prior involvement in the child’s life
  • details of your relationship with the child and the effect that removal of the child might have on it
  • the child’s views (if you know them)
  • whether or not you are prepared to pay damages if the court grants your order and, if so, what the terms would be
  • any other issue that might be relevant.

How do I apply for a Watch List Order?

Once a parenting order has been obtained, you can apply to the Australian Federal Police to have the child’s details listed on the Airport Watch List.

An application for a Watch List Order should be as concise as possible and should include specific details of the child, including the correct spelling of the child’s name, their date of birth, gender and names of other parties involved. A PACE alert allows only twelve lines of information, so conciseness is important.

An application for prohibition on travel can be absolute or conditional. An absolute prohibition means the child cannot leave Australia; a conditional prohibition means they can only travel if particular conditions have been met, such as where both parents have given their consent for that particular trip.

You can find the preferred wording of the Australian Federal Police for a Watch List Order or PACE alert on their website.

Once placed on the Watch List, if an attempt is made to leave Australia the police are notified and the child will be prevented from leaving.

How long does the order last?

Once a Watch List Order has been made it usually remains for a period of two or three years; however, there are exceptions. For instance, when an order has been made that does not include a specified time period, the child will remain on the list until the age of 18 years.

If any amendments are made to parenting orders which allow the child to travel it is important that the Australian Federal Police are notified of this immediately.

Against whom is the order made?

A Watch List Order is made specifically against the child. It is not an order preventing travel with a certain person or parent.

Before a parent considers applying for a Watch List Order they must really think about the consequences of such an order. It may not always be appropriate to make an order against the child which will stop them from leaving the country. For instance, if the child wanted to attend an overseas school excursion they would be prevented from doing so if they are placed on the Watch List.

If my child is on the Watch List can they go on overseas trips?

Once a child has been placed on the Watch List they will be prevented from travelling overseas. The only way a child on the Watch List can travel overseas is if you or your lawyer notify the Australian Federal Police at least 14 days before you intend to travel with the child, and the other parent or party to the order provides written consent for the overseas travel.

How do I find out if my child is on the Watch List?

If you are uncertain as to whether or not a PACE alert has been issued for your child and their details added to the Watch List, you or your lawyer can lodge a Family Law Watch List Enquiry Form with the Australian Federal Police.

You will have to provide certified copies of your identification, as well as copies of any documents you have regarding applications that have been made to have the child placed on the list, or court orders issued.

How do I have my child removed from the Watch List?

In order to have the PACE alert withdrawn and your child’s name removed from the list, you should first talk to your lawyer.

The process required will depend upon how the child’s name was placed on the list in the first place. If it is the result of an injunction or a court order, you may require another court order to have them removed. If the existing order is only to apply for a particular period of time, then your child’s name will be removed at the end of that period.

What happens if an order is breached?

If a parenting order has been made to prevent a child leaving the country and the parent takes the child outside of Australia, they can be imprisoned for 3 years.

If a child has been placed on the Watch List and attempts to leave Australia, he or she will be restrained by the Australian Federal Police. The parent who applied for the order will be notified and will need to take delivery of the child at their expense.

This article reflects the state of the law as at 10 June 2016. It is intended to be of a general nature only and does not constitute legal advice. If you require legal assistance, please telephone 1300 636 846 or request a consultation at gotocourt.com.au.

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