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International child abduction – how to recover your child if you’re not Liam Neeson and don’t have his “special skills”

International child abduction – how to recover your child if you’re not Liam Neeson and don’t have his “special skills”

International child abduction – how to recover your child if you’re not Liam Neeson and don’t have his “special skills”

Recently all the news stations have been reporting about a lady called Dorothy Lee Barnett. Now Dorothy looks like a nice lady, and I’m sure her southern-drawl is quite charming. But here’s the thing – Dorothy has now been extradited to the US facing a number of charges, including international parental kidnapping and passport related offences. Because, as it turns out, Dorothy told her ex that she was taking their baby daughter to a birthday party one day…and never came back.

I think it’s fair to say that in a very limited number of circumstances, you could understand why a parent may flee to another country with their child. For example, in cases of serious family violence, it’s not unreasonable that someone would think that their only option, and their child’s only option, is to escape overseas. However, in most cases, it’s just not on. In Dorothy’s case, her ex had already been awarded sole custody of their daughter. For her to have deprived her daughter of a relationship with her father for the past 20 years is, in my opinion, pretty deplorable.

What some people just don’t ‘get’ is that when you are a parent in Australia you don’t exactly have “parental rights”, you have parental responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is to ensure that your child has a meaningful relationship with both parents. Doing a runner because you don’t want to file an Application to relocate or because you don’t want to deal with your ex anymore is simply depriving your child of having a relationship with their Mum or Dad.

So what do you do if you think your former partner is going to run?

  1. If they haven’t left the country, and you think they will, urgently file an Application with the Family Court seeking that your child/ren be added to the Family Law Watch List, which is operated by the Australian Federal Police;
  2. If they have left the country, where have they gone? If they have gone to a country which has signed and enacted the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction (“Hague Convention”), then you must complete an Application through our Central Authority (the Attorney-General’s Department). A list of signatory countries can be found on the Attorney Generals website under Families and Marraige.  Interestingly, and after years of delay, Japan finally joined the club on 1 April 2014 after being a child abduction “black hole” for decades;
  3. If the Central Authority is satisfied that you meet the conditions of the Hague Convention, they will begin liaising with the Central Authority of the country to which the child has been taken, with a view to having the child returned. Some of the conditions include:
    1. The child must be under 16;
    2. They must have been habitually resident in Australia prior to the move; and
    3. The child must have been taken without your consent, and without a Court Order.
  4. If your ex has gone to Egypt or Lebanon, different rules apply, as Australia has signed private Agreements with those countries;
  5. If your ex has gone to a country with whom we do not have an Agreement, and they are not a party to the Hague Convention, you will have to pursue them through the legal system of that country.

Whichever process applies, it can take time, and is largely dependent on the country to which your former partner has fled. If your Application is successful, be prepared to be served with a Relocation Application.

Whatever the country, do not let time pass by. The longer a child is settled in the new country, the more likely it is that they may be allowed to stay there. Be very wary of taking the “wait and see” approach.

For additional information on Parenting Orders or relocation, please call us on 9386 5200 or email us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to make an appointment or click here to use our online booking system.

For more information on international child abduction, see the Attorney-General’s Department website (above).

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Friday, 12 August 2022