Around 500 British children were abducted and taken abroad by one of their parents in 2014. That’s double the number taken ten years ago.
Ease of travel and a growth in cross border relationships have meant that more break-ups result in difficult decisions for separating parents.
According to Leicester based charity reunite International the number of children removed abroad against the wishes of one of their parents is far higher than the official statistics show. Last year reunite’s helpline managed in excess of 17,000 calls.
reunite International also estimates that around 70% of abductors are the child’s primary carers, usually their mothers.
Under the 1980 Hague Convention children must be promptly returned to their country of ‘habitual residence’. Courts will not look into the rights and wrongs of a custody case, but will order the return of the child to their home country for hearings to be held there.
The unfortunate effect of this is that children who have been removed from their home country and then returned there under the 1980 Hague Convention, may then face further upheaval when their case is decided in the UK courts.
An additional problem for UK parents is that many countries where their children are taken have not signed up to the Hague Convention. So parents whose children are taken to Pakistan, India, Somalia, Nigeria or Egypt face the prospect of legal proceedings in those countries domestic courts.
Mediation as an Alternative
“In cases like this it seems extraordinary that mediation between two parents might be possible, and might deliver an agreement. The degree of acrimony and emotion is so high, there are complicating factors of cultural difference, two legal systems and possibly two languages. Despite these complexities mediation in these cases does happen and can work.”
In 2002 reunite began a pilot project to see whether mediation could be possible in international child abduction cases.
They took 80 referrals, hoping that at least 20 of these would proceed to Mediation. In fact 28 of the cases went to full Mediation. In 75% of those cases an agreement was reached. And 95% of the parents involved said they would recommend mediation to others.
reunite now employs the services of around 6 specially trained mediators, who deal with around 30 cases per year.
As well as mediating in child abduction cases they mediate with parents wishing to relocate and those wishing to arrange contact across borders. Sometimes cases come to them many years after a child has been taken abroad.
Mediation Session Structure
The structure of these sessions will depend on the circumstances and whether both parties can be present.
If one parent cannot be present we can conduct the session using skype.
During the mediation sessions, solicitors from the respective countries can be available on the phone for consultation if required.
The aim of the sessions would be to ensure the wellbeing of the child emotionally and physically as the first priority. Then discussions and options can be discussed on any contact arrangements or other issues that need to be resolved. The central issue for the ‘left behind’ parent is not always the wish for a permanent return, but for contact or visitation rights.
Under The Hague Convention a final hearing should be held within 6 weeks. reunite say that if court proceedings are being held in the UK they often schedule the mediation to happen just before the court process to save travel costs for the parent.
Legal Aid for mediation is automatically available for parents making an application under the Hague Convention when the child has been brought to the UK. If the child has been taken from the UK, costs depend on the legal system of the country to which the child has been taken.
In the words of one parent who has been through mediation ‘It avoids a courtroom battle, which in this type of situation only gets you to a no win situation.’
If you want to find out more about our mediation services then do not hesitate to contact us today on 0117 924 3880.