Info & Advice

I think my ex might abduct our children – what can I do?

The phrase ‘child abduction’ strikes fear into the heart of every parent, conjuring up frightening images of lurking predators. But statistically speaking, the people most likely to abduct children are their own parents – and by a considerable margin.

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Why might they run away with the children? Typically, it’s a desperate move triggered by a divorce or the breakdown of a relationship. Perhaps they resent the time the children spend with their ex, or hate the latter’s new partner, or convince themselves that their children’s other parent represents some kind of danger, whether physical or moral. Sometimes, unfortunately, they simply see the other parent as an inconvenience.

Cultural clashes can also make child abduction more likely. If each parent grew up in different cultures or with different religious values, a breakdown in the relationship may lead one parent to try and remove the children from the influence of the other. Not infrequently, they choose to do so by taking them abroad without your consent.


Whatever the cause, parental abduction is a very upsetting and disruptive – not just for the parent left behind, but for the children themselves as well. Legal measures exist to locate and return children abducted by their parents, and to do so as quickly as possible, but months – or even years – can still pass before parent and child are reunited.

Child abduction can be domestic, with one parent taking the child to a different part of the UK. But international abduction is more common – and harder to undo.

Take action quickly

So, what if your former spouse has started to worry you? Perhaps they’ve been uncharacteristically elusive or made worrying comments. What you can do with your developing suspicions?

Don’t delay: seek legal advice as soon as you can. Find an experienced, family lawyer, ideally one with experience in child abduction cases. Explain the basis for your suspicions and present any evidence you have – for example, emails or text messages. The solicitor may suggest professional mediation – this is a sensible first step.

If the mediation fails, or the other parent refuses to cooperate at all, the next step may be applying for a ‘prohibited steps’ order. These are issued by the family courts to forbid certain actions or activities by one of the parties to a dispute. In parental disputes, they formally prohibit the mother or father from taking an action that would not be in the best interests of their children, such as preventing them from seeing their other parent, or taking them outside the jurisdiction of England and Wales. Parents may also be ordered to surrender their children’s passports.

Note that, in most cases you will need to demonstrate that you have attempted mediation, or at least explored the possibility, before applying for a prohibited steps order.

These orders may prevent an abduction still in the planning stages, but of course, they are no absolute guarantee and will not prevent a truly determined parent from fleeing with the children. If you believe there is an imminent risk of an abduction, within days, then ring the Police. Child abduction is an offence – the Police can and will intervene, in the interests of the children.

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