International Child Abduction in the UK

Mother and daughter standing in the airport near big window and looking on the airplane. Getting ready for the flight. symbolising international child abduction in the uk

The most common type of child abduction is parental abduction, which according to recent figures, has increased by 88% over the previous decade.

Back in 2012,  Daisy Organ, head of the Foreign Office Child Abduction section, said, “The increase in parental child abduction cases is a major cause for concern, particularly in the lead up to the school holidays.”

Worryingly, these figures have only seemed to continue climbing , with 1,189 parental abduction cases recorded in 2017/18 — the highest number recorded over the 16-year period.

A graph showing the number of police recorded child abductions in the UK between 2002 and 2018

We explain what constitutes international child abduction in the UK, what doesn’t and what you should do if you’re concerned your spouse may abduct your child.

What Is Parental Abduction?

Child abduction in the UK is governed by the Child Abduction Act 1984. Section 1 specifically refers to parental abduction, which it defines as a “person connected with a child under the age of sixteen” who “takes or sends the child out of the United Kingdom without the appropriate consent.”

This includes parents of the child, guardians of the child, a person named in a child arrangements order with whom the child lives (known as a “lives with order” and replaces the old concepts of ‘residence’ or ‘custody’).

Under the Child Abduction Act, appropriate consent is required from each of the following:

  • The child’s mother/s
  • The child’s father/s (providing the father has parental responsibility)
  • Any guardians of the child
  • Any person named in a child arrangements order and benefitting from a “lives with order”
  • The permission of the court, also known as “leave to remove”

When Is It Not Parental Abduction?

There are, however, cases where taking a child out of the UK is not classed as international child abduction, including:

  • If a person has a child arrangements order and takes the child out of the UK for less than a month
  • If the person is a special guardian and takes the child out of the UK for less than three months.

In addition to the above, there are several other cases that do not comprise parental abduction, such as if the person has obtained “leave to remove” — permission granted by the court for a child to emigrate or reside in another jurisdiction temporarily.—

If you are looking to take a child out of the UK, and you are unsure whether there is consent or struggling to achieve agreement it is important to consult a specialist family solicitor to ensure you are not committing an offence. Likewise, you should seek urgent advice if you are concerned that a spouse or ex-partner will abduct your child. Contact our team of specialist family solicitors to discuss your case.


After four years working at a top-tier, award-winning family law firm in Hertfordshire, Che joined KMJ in January 2018. Prior to this, Che trained and qualified at a high-profile commercial and media firm based in London’s West-End.