Is your child at risk of being abducted from Australia?

Parents can protect children who are named in a parenting order from being abducted by placing the child’s name on the Airport Watch List

When a child is the subject of a parenting order, neither parent may remove that child from Australia without the consent of the other parent or permission of the court. That law is intended to prevent a parent from abducting a child after a dispute arises about child custody.

Although it is a crime to remove a child from Australia under those circumstances, some parents are willing to break the law. If a child has a passport, a parent may be able to bring the child overseas without the other parent’s knowledge. By the time the other parent discovers that the child is missing, the parent’s only recourse may be the Hague Convention, which allows parents to seek the child’s return to Australia. Unfortunately, the Hague Convention applies only to countries that have agreed to its terms. And even when the Hague Convention applies, stressful months may pass before an aggrieved parent wins the child’s return.

Preventing child abduction

A parent who has a genuine fear that a child will be removed from Australia can apply to a Family Law Court to place the child’s name on the Airport Watch List. That order alerts the Australian Federal Police that a child cannot be removed from Australia.

All international departure points have access to the Watch List. Once the child is registered, a parent will only be able to remove a child from Australia by obtaining a court order removing the child from the Watch List.

Airport watch list procedure

A Family Law Court will not place a child on the Airport Watch List unless there is a genuine fear that a child will not be returned to Australia. After applying for the order, the parent may give an authenticated copy of the application to the Federal Police, who will then place the child’s name on the Airport Watch List until the court holds a hearing on the application.

After an application is filed, the court will hold a hearing and will listen to the positions of both parents. In emergency situations, the court might grant a temporary order without holding a hearing, but will later give the other parent a chance to be heard before deciding whether to make a final order.

If the other parent expresses a desire to take a child out of the country, the court will consider the length and purpose of the travel and whether the destination country has agreed to be bound by the Hague Convention. The court will then decide whether it is reasonable to fear that the child will not be returned if removal from the country is permitted. The court might direct the parent to post a sum of money as a bond which will returned after the parent returns the child to Australia.

If the court is satisfied that there is reason to fear the child will not be returned to Australia, it will issue a Watch List Order. The Order may be permanent or it may expire after a time designated by the court. It is the responsibility of the parent who obtains a Watch List Order to provide an authenticated copy to the Federal Police.

If the other parent has taken the child and you do not know the child’s location, the court can issue a Recovery Order as well as an Airport Watch Order. A Recovery Order directs all law enforcement authorities to locate the child and to return the child to your custody.

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