Parental Abduction On The Rise

BBC News is reporting that parental abduction is escalating in the United Kingdom, citing statistics from the Office of International Family Justice that show that while there were only 27 cases in 2007, in 2010 there were 92 cases, and 180 cases in 2011.

What accounts for the increase in parents fleeing their home countries and taking their children with them? Lord Justice Thorpe, who heads the Office of International Family Justice, notes that most of the increase involves eastern European countries and says that almost two-thirds of children born in London in 2010 have one “foreign” parent, suggesting that the wrongful abduction of children will likely increase in the future.

A spokesperson for Reunite, Sharon Cooke, points to the relative ease of international travel in the 21st century and suggests that “People are relocating, their jobs take them abroad and therefore the chances of meeting different people are greater”.

It appears she is suggesting that as international travel increases, spouses are connecting with new people and forming new spousal-like relationships, but do not wish to leave their children behind.

Many of these parents accurately predict that their desire to move away with their children will be greeted with alarm and adversity from their partners and decide to employ “self-help” methods, rather than allowing the court to determine whether they should be permitted to move.

These cases, referred to as “move-away” or “parental mobility” applications are some of the most difficult cases that Judges in family law courts face. They are also cases that often do not settle out of court because the end result is “winner takes all”. There is usually no compromise or middle ground which will satisfy both parents.

As for Canadian cases, anecdotally I can say that parental abduction also seems to be on the rise in Canada, based on the increasing number of cases I have personally handled and in regularly reading new cases on the British Columbia Superior Courts website.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to predict the outcome of any particular case when a parent seeks a court order allowing that parent to move with the children. Factors which favour a move include:

-The moving parent is the primary resident parent;
-The “left-behind” parent has a lesser parental role;
-The moving parent can show that the proposed move is an economic improvement for both the parent and the children;
-The moving parent has a reasonable plan to facilitate access for the left-behind parent;
-The move is not too far away: i.e. a move from B.C. to Ontario, rather than a move from B.C. to Australia;
-The left-behind parent pays little or no child support or is in arrears of child support;
-There is no evidence to suggest that the proposed move is intended to thwart the other parent’s relationship with the children.

Two recent British Columbia cases from the Court of Appeal add to the body of law that has developed in this area, ( R.E.Q. v. G.J.K. 2012 BCCA 146 and Stav v. Stav 2012 BCCA 154) but Judges and family law lawyers recognize that while precedent cases are helpful, each case has its own twists and turns, as no two cases are identical.

It is unlikely that this difficult issue will get any easier to resolve, despite the additional direction from our Court of Appeal. It is noteworthy that the Court in R.E.Q. v. G.J.K. suggests it may be time for the Supreme Court of Canada to weigh in on the tension between what is in a child’s best interests and the rights of a parent to move if he or she believes it is the best option.

What everyone can agree on is that fleeing with a child is the worst possible scenario.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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