Consenting to a parent’s overseas travel with children can be risky, particularly if the children are going to a country that has not joined the Hague Convention
In 2015, the media reported that Sally Faulkner agreed to allow her estranged husband to take their two children with him on vacation to visit his family. After taking the children to Beirut, Sally’s husband informed her that he was not bringing the children back to Brisbane — ever.
Since then, Sally has occasionally spoken with her children via Skype, but only when her husband allows them to communicate. She has learned that the children spend most of their time with her husband’s mother, who does not speak English. The children, who do not speak Arabic, have told their mother that they miss her and want to return home.
Media reports indicate that two or three children are abducted every week from Australia. Whether Australian parents can take meaningful steps to win a child’s return depends upon the country in which the child is currently living.
Australia is one of 81 countries that have agreed to be bound by the Hague Convention. If a child is taken from Australia to any of those countries, a parent can begin a proceeding to require the child’s return to Australia. The Australian parent needs to prove that the child belongs to Australia, which can typically be accomplished by providing a court order or proof that the child ordinarily resides in Australia.
Obtaining a child’s return is more difficult when the child is taken to a country that is not a party to the Hague Convention. Lebanon has not signed the Hague Convention, but Australia and Lebanon have a bilateral agreement on international parental child abduction. Australia has a similar agreement with Egypt.
The bilateral agreement may not be enough to help Sally Faulkner. The agreement with Lebanon does not work in the same way as the Hague Convention. An Australian parent must ask Australia’s Attorney-General’s Department to act on the parent’s behalf. If the Attorney-General’s Department agrees to do so, it will begin a process of negotiation with authorities in Lebanon. That process can be long-lasting and is often quite frustrating for Australian parents.
The Attorney-General’s Department may decide not to pursue Sally’s application since she consented to the father’s request to take the children to Beirut. Even if the Attorney-General’s Department intercedes, Lebanon may decline to act for the same reason.
Sally can bypass the treaty process and begin legal action in an Australian or Lebanese court. The risk is that Lebanon would not recognize the validity of an Australian order that is entered after the children were taken to Lebanon. Pursuing legal action in Lebanon would likely take years and the court might not reach the result that Sally desires.
The ultimate lesson to learn from Sally’s tragic experience is that parents should be wary of allowing their children to be taken on vacation to a foreign country. It is always wise to seek legal advice before consenting to allow children to leave Australia.